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Kings line up big games

Rugby union

The Southern Kings will face English club Saracens on two occasions next year, while they will also provide the opposition to all five of South Africa's Super Rugby franchises in the build-up to the 2011 competition.

The move is seen as the next step by the South African Rugby Union (SARU) to advance plans for the inclusion of the Port Elizabeth-based team in the southern hemisphere's premier club competition.

The Kings have been lobbying for several years to be included in Super Rugby and came close last year when it was extended from 14 to 15 teams, but lost out to new Australian outfit, Melbourne Rebels. But SARU are still keen to see the union join the tournament and want their inclusion as early as 2013.

"An incredible amount of hard work has gone on behind the scenes to get the Southern Kings to this point," SARU president Oregan Hoskins said. "SARU has managed to source sponsors and fixtures for the franchise, we have now managed to forge a draft agreement between the three unions and a business plan is in place to be signed off shortly.

"The last great hurdle is to secure a formal place in the Vodacom Super Rugby competition but we are addressing that issue internally and will deliver a road map sooner rather than later."

The Kings, which is made up of the Border, Eastern Province Kings and South Western Districts unions, will play the Bulls on January 29, followed by matches against the Cheetahs and Lions on the next two weekends.

Dates for matches against the Sharks and Stormers are yet to be confirmed. The matches against Saracens are scheduled for Port Elizabeth in February and Qatar in June.

Plans have also been unveiled to field a Kings XV in an international invitational tournament at some point during the next 12 months.

Hoskins added: "SARU is fully committed to the Eastern Cape rugby cause and has shown its commitment through tangible investment on all levels.

"SARU believes that these steps will take Eastern Cape Rugby to the next level."