The Kings will hope they can once again contain a fierce Jaguares side when they host the South Americans in Port Elizabeth on Saturday.
The Kings were the perennial whipping-boys of 2016 and seemed mainly in the competition just to make up the numbers but, in all fairness, did the have odds stacked against them from the outset.
Off-field financial dramas plagued them, while not being given nearly enough time to prepare for Super Rugby and assemble a team as their inclusion was announced so late all hampering their chances. It also didn’t help that the Kings had to play the New Zealand sides in their first year of Super Rugby which was never going to be conducive to a smooth debut.
This year, however, they have some stability in their side that should set them up for a better and more fruitful 2017.
Some names have stuck with the franchise such as Schalk Ferreira, Waylon Murray and CJ Velleman which will definitely benefit their prospects while the signing and promoting of local talent should help get the Eastern Cape crowd re-invested in the Southern Kings.
And a game against an old foe, who they won against last year, is the perfect way to get their season started if they can emulate their home game against the Jaguares rather than their 73-27 hammering away in Buenos Aires.
The Jaguares will be foaming at the mouth for an opportunity to get one over the Kings after last season’s loss. They under performed in general in 2016 and considering the bountiful talent they have in their squad they should fare a lot better this season.
Jaguares coach Raul Pérez believes he picked the best side to face the Kings this weekend, despite a number of leading names missing through injury such as Nicolás Sánchez and the franchise having released the highly-talented Facundo Isa earlier this week.
“We think that these 23 players are the most suitable for the rival that we are going to have on Saturday and of course the players deserve to be there,” said Pérez.
“Our goal is to go through each game and improve our performance. We hope to be able to solidify what we did in practice on game day with every fixture.
“We have good expectations and we know that we will have to fix some small details, after the first game, but I think we had a very good pre-season.”
Kings head coach Deon Davids stressed the importance of beginning the Kings’ campaign on a winning start.
“For us, it is important to go out there full of confidence in ourselves and what we can bring. We understand that we are playing against a quality side,” Davids said.
“We will have to focus a lot on ourselves, in terms of what we want to bring and how we will do it. We are looking forward to expressing ourselves and seeing our experienced players as well as the young ones getting out there and making use of the opportunity of playing Super Rugby.”
The last time these teams met: The Kings beat the Jaguares 29-22 in Port Elizabeth. It was a dramatic game of rugby as the Kings managed to score four tries to one and overcame a Jaguares comeback. The South Americans were heavily handy capped though as they copped two red cards as well as a yellow cards which impeded their efforts.
Players to watch: It will be Malcolm Jaer’s second year in Super Rugby and with some maturity behind his freakishly quick feet, the young Kings flyer might come into his own this year. He runs fantastic supports lines, while, despite his small size remains an astute defender.
Isa has left big shoes to fill at the Argentine side but the calm and cool head of Leonardo Senatore can be a worthwhile replacement. Senatore is a strong ball-carrier as well as effective in the set pieces and provides leadership in a Jaguares teams still finding their footing in premier Southern Hemisphere rugby. If the Jaguares find themselves in a repeat of last season in Port Elizabeth, Senatore could be the man to guide them out of dangerous waters.
Team news: The Kings held onto some experience and strong talent from 2017. Loosehead prop Schalk Ferreira keeps the captaincy and leads a team mixed with experience and youth. The addition of Highlanders prop Ross Geldenhuys to their front row should benefit them against a traditionally strong Argentine front row. Their backline is a little short on caps though which might lead to them struggling against a mostly internationally tested Jaguares backline.
The Jaguares are currently injury-fraught with the loss of some key players in fly-half Sánchez, centre Juan Martín Hernández and scrum-half Martín Landajo which will definitely hurt them going into the game. The invaluable experience will be sorely missed. They have some young guns wondering into the clearing that could have a make or break fixture this weekend.
Form: The Kings go into the game with some pre-season momentum after two matches against the SWD Eagles and Border Bulldogs. The Kings won convincingly in both of them beating the Bulldogs 28-10.
The Jaguares are also on a hot streak after two pre=season fixtures in January against the Uruguay international side as well as an Argentina XV, which the Jaguares won both.
Prediction: The Kings should be a much stronger outfit but the experience and momentum of the Jaguares should be too much for them. Jaguares by 15.
2016: Kings won 29-22 in Port Elizabeth
2016: Jaguares won 73-27 in Buenos Aires
Kings: 15 Chrysander Botha, 14 Makazole Mapimpi, 13 Berton Klaasen, 12 Waylon Murray, 11 Malcolm Jaer, 10 Lionel Cronje, 9 Louis Schreuder, 8 Ruan Lerm, 7 Stefan Willemse, 6 Andisa Ntsila, 5 Mzwanele Zito, 4 Irne Herbst, 3 Ross Geldenhuys, 2 Michael Willemse, 1 Schalk Ferreira (c)
Replacements: 16 Martin Bezuidenhout, 17 Schalk van der Merwe, 18 Chris Heiberg, 19 Tyler Paul, 20 Chris Cloete, 21 Rudi van Rooyen, 22 Masixole ‘Coyi’ Banda, 23 Luzuko Vulindlu
Jaguares: 15 Joaquín Tuculet, 14 Matías Orlando, 13 Matías Moroni, 12 Jerónimo de la Fuente, 11 Santiago Cordero, 10 Joaquín Díaz Bonilla, 9 Gonzalo Bertranou, 8 Leonardo Senatore, 7 Pablo Matera, 6 Tomás Lezana, 5 Matías Alemanno, 4 Guido Petti, 3 Felipe Arregui, 2 Agustín Creevy (c), 1 Lucas Noguera Paz
Replacments: 16 Julián Montoya, 17 Santiago García Botta, 18 Cristian Bartoloni, 19 Marcos Kremer, 20 Rodrigo Báez, 21 Felipe Ezcurra, 22 Santiago González Iglesias, 23 Ramiro Moyano
Date: Saturday, February 25
Venue: Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, Port Elizabeth
Kick-off: 17:15 local (15:15 GMT)
Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
Assistant Referees: AJ Jacobs (South Africa), Rodney Boneparte (South Africa)
TMO: Johan Greeff (South Africa)