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Rugby | Pro14

Tommaso Castello © Gallo Images

Reality bites for outplayed Kings

The magnitude of the task that awaits them was drummed home in quite chilling fashion for the Southern Kings as they were outplayed 43-17 by the Italian team, the Zebre, in their Guinness PRO14 fourth-round fixture at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in Port Elizabeth on Saturday night.

Zebre scored six tries to two and as this was a game that the Kings were expected to target for a victory at home their performance was a big disappointment and the one-sidedness of the game was a case of reality biting for them, and biting them hard.

If they can’t be competitive at home against the Zebre then they are in for a long and tough passage through to the end of the competition next May.

In the early days of this competition it was the Kings who attracted the more positive comment of the two South African teams as everyone knew that they were up against it after their coaches had to throw together a squad in the weeks before the tournament.

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But after the Toyota Cheetahs’ excellent win over Leinster, and the Kings’ rather tame capitulation at home to a team they really should have been expected to beat, that has changed.

Make no mistake, there are many mitigating circumstances that can be used on behalf of the Kings.

And one of those would surely be the tough week they have just endured.

After playing their hearts out in their brave defeat to Leinster last weekend, they had to put up with sections of their support base in Port Elizabeth calling for a boycott of their matches.

Not that a boycott would have made much difference as the big stadium looked pretty empty for the Leinster game.

The Eastern Province union did come out during the week to say they are fully behind the Kings, and they have stated an intent to gradually take control of the Eastern Cape franchise back from the national governing body.

But still, it is all pretty confusing and it also is a long way from the cohesive support the Kings enjoyed when they made a strong finish to Super Rugby with a completely different team.

With the Kings now due to hit the road again, the outlook in the short term is bleak.

Long term might be different as the Kings might be an attractive proposition for quality players once the Eastern Cape union has the money to attract them.

Hopefully that hope is not just pie in the sky.

In this game that goal seemed a long way off.


The Italian team dominated from the outset, and the Kings weaknesses were not just limited to one or two things.

In the first half their defence was woeful and they gave up way too much ground to the visitors with their passive defensive effort, they made too many handling errors, they gave away too many penalties, and in this game they were also again second best in the battle for forward supremacy.

The Kings did play well in the third quarter and there was a period after halftime, where they trailed 22-3, when they looked like they might be on the way back after tries from replacement scrumhalf Godlen Masimla and prop Luvuyo Pupuma.

That hope was quickly extinguished though as the Zebre took control again in the last quarter to score two killer tries that pushed their tally beyond the 40 point mark.

The ineffectual Kings tackling was evident in the early minutes, as first captain Tommaso Castello and then wing Mattia Bellini crossed the line for the visitors to push them into a 12-0 lead after just six minutes.

Pieter-Steph de Wet, playing his debut match at this level, kicked a penalty to steady the ship but then the Italian No 8 Renato Giammarioli crashed over to make it 19-3 with Carlo Canna’s conversion after 21 minutes.

A Canna penalty pushed the lead to 19 by the break and then came a try to outside centre Tommaso Boni that made it 29-3.

The Masimla try came courtesy of an intercept from lock Dries van Schalkwyk followed by a grubber kick that would not have looked out of place had it come from a back.

The Kings really did look good for about 20 minutes but ultimately that is the heart of their problem – rugby matches are played over four times as many minutes as that.

It’s not the fault of the Kings that they look out of their depth, and maybe it won’t stay that way, but they are going to have to hit a sharp improvement curve if they are going to attract fans to their impressive stadium.


Zebre 43– Tries: Tommaso Castello, Mattia Bellini, Renato Giammirioli, Tommaso Boni, Giulio Bisegni and Zacapo Sarto; Conversions: Carlo Canna 3 and Serafin Bordoli; Penalty: Carlo Canna.

Southern Kings 17 – Tries: Godlen Masimla and Luvuyo Pupuma; Conversions: Pieter-Steph de Wet 2; Penalty: Pieter-Steph de Wet.


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