Fitness test awaits Kings centre Cooke

DYNAMIC centre Ronnie Cooke is facing a race against time to be fit to take his place in the Southern Kings lineup to face the Lions in a Super Rugby friendly at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium on Saturday (kick-off 5pm).

Cooke, who took a knock on the hip against the Cheetahs last week, will have a fitness test later this week to assess whether he can play.

If Cooke, who scored a try against the Cheetahs, fails his test then Dwayne Jenner will come into the side as outside centre.

"By tomorrow [Thursday] we should have an indication of exactly where Ronnie is regarding his injury," Kings caretaker head coach Robbi Kempson said.

Changes to the side that were beaten 36-21 by the Cheetahs see Charl du Plessis coming in to the starting lineup at prop in place of Pieter Stemmet, and Shane Gates starting at centre.

After their solid showing against the Cheetahs there will be much attention on whether flyhalf George Whitehead and efficient scrumhalf Jaco Grobler can continue to grow their partnership.

"We could have put a lot more pressure on the Cheetahs in the scrums than we did. Against the Cheetahs we were under pressure for the majority of our scrums," Kempson said.

"We have worked on that and we had an extended session at the scrum machine during training. So we might have sorted out that problem ahead of the Lions game.

"Charl du Plessis brings more experience to the team and we saw what he did in Super Rugby and in the Currie Cup First Division last year. Charl also brings in more bulk," Kempson said. Lions coach Johan Ackermann will bring out most of his big guns for their second Super Rugby pre-season outing.

A number of senior players – Springbok lock Franco van der Merwe, Jaco Kriel, Julian Redelinghuys, Jacques van Rooyen, Marnitz Boshoff, Andries Coetzee, Michael Bondesio and newly appointed skipper Warren Whiteley – were rested when the Lions faced a NWU-Pukke selection and the Leopards Vodacom Cup team last Friday.

The good news for the Lions is that there are no serious injuries after last week's opening act, which saw the Lions dispatch the Leopards 31-24, before recording a 52-14 win over the NWU-Pukke side. Ackermann admitted that certain aspects of the performances last week were not good, but that they had been made aware of which major aspects required work.

Meanwhile, it has been announced that former Kings and Blitz Boks star Mzwandile Stick will be the head coach of the EP Kings Vodacom Cup team this season. He will be assisted by another former Kings player, Barend Pieterse, while Tiger Mangweni will be in charge of defence.

The Kings Vodacom Cup side, which will be named tomorrow, will play a friendly against Despatch as a curtain-raiser to the Kings-Lions match on Saturday. This game will kick- off at 2.30pm.

The Southern Kings team:

BG Uys, Dane van der Westhuysen, Charl du Plessis, Steven Sykes, Rynier Bernardo, Paul Schoeman, Darron Nell (capt), Devin Oosthuizen, Jaco Grobler, George Whitehead, Michael Killian, Shane Gates, Ronnie Cooke or Dwayne Jenner, Sergeal Petersen, Siviwe Soyizwapi. Replacements: JC Oberholzer, Lizo Gqoboko, Vukile Sofisa, Stephan Zaayman, Stefan Greeff, Thembelani Bholi, Sonwabo Majola, Dwayne Jenner, Ntabeni Dukisa