The first match of the Guinness Pro14 to take place on South African soil kicked off on Saturday 16 September 2017, when the Southern Kings went down to Leinster in Port Elizabeth by 10-31. In a cold and wet Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, the Irish side looked at home after a strong second half performance.
In the first half, the Kings managed to stop the Leinster attack, and hold them off of their line, only conceding a single try, and scoring a penalty of their own. Both teams looked hungry in the first half, with the King’s Masixole Banda scoring the opening points via the boot. Leinster’s Noel Reid ended scoring in the first half with a try, which was converted by Ross Byrne. As the players ran into the tunnel, the hosts would have been happy with the close margin.
The second half, however, proved to be the Kings’ downfall, as they let three tries go in quick succession, scored by Rory O’Loughlin, Jack Conan and Joey Carbery respectively. Despite beginning to gain some solid possession in the second half, the Kings let another try go to Dave Kearney for Leinster against the run of play. The Kings finally scored their consolation try through Jacques Nel late in the game, however it was too late to affect the outcome of the match.
After the match Southern Kings’ coach Deon Davids saw encouraging signs in his side’s first half performance. “I think there was a lot of good stuff in terms of our side in the first half. There were ample opportunities that we just didn’t capitalize on,” said Davids, adding, “obviously you’ve got to give accolades to Leinster, they really kept us behind the advantage line and put us under huge pressure.”
Davids identified the first ten minutes of the second half as the turning point in the match. “After half time, those first ten minutes they just played us off the park and we put ourselves under tremendous pressure. I think rugby is a game of momentum and if you consecutively concede momentum by giving away a free kick or concede a turnover then you are going to stand behind the poles,” said Davids.
Leinster’s head coach, Leo Cullen, believes that the kings are heading in the right direction each week. “It must be an unbelievably tough challenge for them, to think the only got a team together a couple of weeks before the tournament starts without any pre-season effectively. They’re definitely making good progress week by week from what I saw two weeks ago against Scarlets to what I saw today,” said Cullen.
The Kings will now go into what Davids calls a normal week of training ahead of their next match against Zebre, from Italy. “Our goal next week is to put on a good show, and to ensure that we just build on the stuff that we need to improve on. We are going to have to study our opponents and take it from there. Our big focus this week will be on clarity and to be much more composed in our execution,” said Davids.
The Kings will host Zebre on Saturday 23 September in Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, with kickoff scheduled for 19h35 CAT.
Tries: Jacques Nel
Conversions: Ntabeni Dukisa
Penalties: Masixole Banda
Tries: Noel Reid, Rory O’Loughlin, Jack Conan, Joey Carbery, Dave Kearney
Conversions: Ross Byrne x3