Italy test star set to sign up for the Kings

FORMER Italian international Tobie Botes could be the latest player to sign for the EP Kings as they prepare for their baptism of fire in the Currie Cup Premier Division.

The 30-year-old scrumhalf and flyhalf, who has played 22 tests for Italy, attended a Kings training session yesterday and is expected to be among at least three new signings announced by the Kings later this week.

Another new face at training was wing Cheslyn Roberts, who played in the Vodacom Cup for Boland earlier this year. He is on trial for 10 days at the Kings.

On Thursday, the Kings will name their team to play Wales next Tuesday and it will be interesting to see whether they throw all the new faces in at the deep end or give them more time to settle. The highly rated Botes, whose main position is scrumhalf, was called up to the Italian squad as cover for the 2012 Six Nations Championship.

The expected signing of Botes means there will be keen competition for the scrumhalf berth in the weeks ahead. Jaco Grobler made a good impression in the Super Rugby friendlies early this season, and former Cheetahs player Kevin Luiters is another strong contender to start at No9.

The game against Wales will give head coach Carlos Spencer a good chance to assess the talent at his disposal ahead of the big battles that lie ahead in the Currie Cup.

The Kings were hard at work at a conditioning session yesterday where Spencer, Michael Horak (defence coach) and Shaun Sowerby (forwards coach) put the players through their paces.

All the new signings were present, and hooker Michael van Vuuren (Stade Francais), lock Izak van der Westhuizen (Edinburgh), prop CJ van der Linde (London Irish), Hansie Graaff and Tim Whitehead (both Sharks) could all be included for the game against Wales.

Van der Linde, a veteran of 75 tests for the Springboks, looked sharp in training and his experience will be vital for the Kings as they bid to dominate at scrum time.

Other newcomers who could feature against the Welshmen are scrumhalf Luiters and Samoan wing Paul Perez, who is back to full fitness after going through a rehabilitation programme after a knee injury.

Perez, a firm favourite with Kings fans, could give his team a vital edge as they bid to make their mark at the top level of the South African game.

Skipper Luke Watson was also operating at full steam at training and he will be keen to return to action after a long layoff because of an ankle injury.

"It is good to see all the guys on the training field today as we look ahead to Tuesday's game against Wales," EP's chief executive Charl Crous said.

"Having home-ground advantage always counts for something. We are confident that we can challenge the Welsh side and put on a good show for the Kings fans."

After the Wales match the Kings face the Bulls in a Super Rugby friendly on June 20 and the Sharks on July 4 before their opening Currie Cup game against Western Province on August 8. All the games will be at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium.

ýIt has been announced that Kings prop Pieter Stemmet is currently on loan to the Pumas. - George Byron