The Kings’ epoch-making feat of beating the Bulls 31-30 last week at Loftus Versveld with 13 players of colour – the most ever fielded in a Super Rugby team – was a significant milestone for South African rugby. It wasn’t just the result that mattered, but the manner in which they achieved it – marrying flair and verve with sheer bloodymindedness that set pulses racing.
When I say it was a positive for South African rugby, I mean for the Springboks and sport in the country, not merely black rugby, despite myopic views to the contrary from certain quarters. Black rugby must move beyond its traditional heartland in the Eastern Cape if the country is to harness the true power of its athletic prowess on the pitch, and the Loftus milestone represents a huge step towards achieving that.
Coach Deon Davids must be commended for leading his charges to victory and for turning around what initially looked like being another disappointing season for the Kings. After years of being the whipping boys of the competition and enduring political and financial challenges, the Kings have won a lot of fans in an emotional final campaign in the competition. Besides accounting for the Bulls, they also claimed the scalp of their former mother team – the Sharks – for the first time and completed a shock 26-24 come-from-behind win over the Waratahs in Sydney.
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While Super Rugby’s convoluted format needed to be overhauled for the sake of everyone’s sanity, and the likes of Luzuko Vulindlu, Chris Cloete and talismanic captain Lionel Cronje are sure to find spots at other franchises, it would be a crying shame if the Kings were to lie dormant and not find another competition in which to showcase their wares, even if it means going to Europe. The brand and following they have built over the course of the campaign is far too strong for the Kings to be relegated to once more being a feeder team for the Sharks.
Here’s hoping the men will give their supporters something to cheer about in their final Super Rugby fixture against the Cheetahs (the other South African team left in Super Rugby limbo) in Port Elizabeth on Friday evening. Long live the Kings!