Kings’ fighting spirit gives hope
Confidence vote from Cheetahs coach after close game
It is not all doom and gloom at the Isuzu Southern Kings despite a long list of Guinness PRO14 defeats that have left them struggling to keep their heads above water.
After his team escaped with a last-gasp win, Cheetahs coach Franco Smith predicted that the Kings had the potential to grow into a formidable unit.
“You will see this team grow, given their commitment . . . they fight and want to win and never give up,” Smith said after his team’s narrow 24-17 win.
Smith must surely have been impressed with the showings of some of the Kings’ brightest young players.
If the Kings are going to enjoy a much-needed late-season renaissance it could be sparked, in part, by their terrier-like loose forwards CJ Velleman and Bakkies Brown.
Only one win from 12 games tells a story of its own, but Brown, 24, and Velleman , 23, were players who put their hands up when the Kings were edged by the Cheetahs last week.
The marauding Brown had the crowd on their feet at the Madibaz Stadium when he surged through the Cheetahs’ defence to put his team on the attack.
Brown and Velleman played together at Grey High and Kings coach Deon Davids is hoping the partnership will flourish at the Kings.
While Velleman made his mark in his debut Super Rugby season, Brown has also caught the eye since making the step up to PRO14.
“I played with CJ for a year at Grey High in my matric year, so it is nice to be playing with him again here at the Kings,” Brown said.
“We have the same sort of game and we make things easier for one another on the field.
“The two of us are also good pals off the field, so I think it is a good partnership to fulfil the roles of fetchers for the team in PRO14.
“All the teams put a big emphasis on the breakdown, so it is difficult for a fetcher.
“There are vastly different conditions when we play on wet fields in Europe. In South Africa, where it is drier, there are more chances for the fetchers to get involved at the breakdown and steal a few balls.
“However, it is always important for loose forwards to be careful where they select to steal possession so your team does not lose numbers in defence.”
So how did Henry Brandon Brown end up being called Bakkies?
“My nickname Bakkies was invented during my time at the EP academy with coach Robbi Kempson. I had to play a few games at lock, so that nickname came along and it has just stuck with me.”
Brown says the transition from junior rugby to the professional game has been a smooth one.
“A lot of the guys played together in the Currie Cup in 2016, so I feel very comfortable playing with them. I have come a long way with a lot of my PRO14 teammates, so that makes things easier.”
Brown’s first experience of rugby played at provincial level was for the EP U21 team during the 2015 season. He made eight starts and three appearances as a replacement for the team playing in their first season in Group A of the competition, having won promotion from Group B in 2014.
In 2016, Brown represented the Madibaz in the Varsity Cup competition.
He played in all seven of their matches during the competition and scored tries in matches against NWU Pukke and against the UCT Ikey Tigers in their only victory of the season as the team finished second-last in the competition.
Brown was included in the EP Kings squad for their Currie Cup match against the Falcons in Kempton Park.
He made his first-class debut by coming on just before the hour mark in a 59-26 defeat in his only appearance in the competition.
After the Kings were sunk by a last-gasp try by the Cheetahs, Davids praised the efforts of Brown and Velleman.
“I think CJ was exceptional on the ball and he really slowed their possession down and gave us time to set a defence line in order to defend the next phase,” Davids said.
“If you have players like that getting some form back it is good to see. CJ was out for two or three years, and I think he is slowly finding his feet.
“Bakkies is also coming back from injury and these are good signs for the team.
“Now the team must just keep on working hard to see if we can keep the upward curve going.”..