In their first match back on South African soil in 2019, the Isuzu Southern Kings suffered a heartbreaking defeat to the Toyota Cheetahs, after the visitors managed to score in the 85th minute of the match. The 17-24 defeat was felt even more deeply by Kings supporters, as their charges had fought back well in the second half to remain level at the end of 80 minutes.
The Cheetahs started off strong, scoring the only try of the first half, but failed to capitalize on the pressure that they had built up throughout the game. After the halftime break, the Kings came out firing, and scored their first try shortly after kickoff. It was intense, back and forth rugby from then on out, with both teams living up to the nature of the derby. Ultimately, after almost ten minutes of camping on the hosts’ tryline, Luan de Bruin broke the hearts of the Kings when he crossed over for the Cheetahs’ match-winning try.
Franco Smith, the head coach of the Cheetahs, acknowledged the strength and character that the Kings showed to fight their way back into the match. “I think we were good in the first half, the first ten minutes especially,” said Smith. “We did put the pressure up. But in saying that, I think the spirit that the Kings played with is exceptional; it is typical South African and it is typical of a derby, so we expected that. I think the Kings’ spirit and their fight is second to none,” said Smith.
Deon Davids, the Kings’ head coach, was disappointed with the defeat, pointing to the issues that had plagued his side all season. “We were dominated in the scrums,” said Davids, “and we could not get our lineouts going in the first half and that just upset our rhythm. Luckily we fought back, but in the end our Achilles heels just got back to us.”
Davids did not shy away from the positives that his side showed. “We worked very hard on the defense these past few weeks, and there was much improvement in terms of that,” said Davids. “I think the guys’ one on one tackling was much better and our tracking also better, and then, when there was a line-break, I think the guys scrambled extremely well.”
“In terms of the loose forwards, I think CJ Velleman was exceptional on the ball and he really slowed their possession down and gave us time on defense to set up or defensive line and get ready for the next phase,” said Davids. “When you have players like that finding some form, it is really good to see.”
The Kings will now prepare for their next home match against Edinburgh at the Nelson Mandela University Madibaz stadium in Port Elizabeth on Saturday 26 January.