Leinster triumph but league has much work to do in SA
Southern Kings 10 Leinster 31
The word from the Leinster dressing-room was that the Southern Kings’ physicality stood out, but the hastily assembled local side has a lot to do to be able to make their impressive power count.
The Port Elizabethans are pointless after three games in the Guinness PRO14 and while they will hope to overturn Zebre here on Saturday, the performance of Michael Bradley’s men in Bloemfontein – where they pushed the Cheetahs hard in a highly entertaining shoot-out – indicates that it won’t be an easy task.
A full week’s training is a decent start. Last week they were even more disrupted than Leinster as they made their way back home from Ireland, while their troublesome injury list should ease a little going into week four.
“I’m very realistic in terms of where we are, I’m not making excuses but everyone understands the situation we’re in,” said Kings coach Deon Davids after his side were beaten 31-10 by Leinster.
“We’re now three weeks together as a group, as players and management, playing against well-settled opposition. It’s going to take us some time.
“But I also feel that there are some good things on which the players are responding well.”
Captain Michael Willemse is one of the newcomers’ leading lights and he admitted that he and his team-mates are on a steep curve.
“It’s a completely different tournament, it’s a lot tougher. The demands on the body are a lot higher,” he said when asked to compare the PRO14 to Super Rugby.
“They play differently, they stick to the basic stuff and do it well. They keep coming at you.
“We are learning, we’re getting better every week and we have something to build on after that first half – there’s some positive stuff. Hopefully we can do better this week coming.”
Leinster flew to Cape Town yesterday where they will today begin preparations for Friday’s clash with the Cheetahs.
Isa Nacewa and Jamison Gibson-Park joined the squad yesterday after successfully negotiating immigration and both men come into selection contention for the Bloemfontein clash.
Ross Byrne and James Ryan are Leo Cullen’s chief concerns after a bruising game. Fly-half Byrne hurt his ankle early on, but played on, while Ryan was wearing a protective boot on his leg in the aftermath of the match.
An update on the pair’s fitness will be provided today, while Fergus McFadden and Max Deegan should also be available for selection.
Friday’s game will be played at altitude on the Highveld, and Cullen gave his team a sneak preview of what’s in store when they trained in Johannesburg on Thursday.
“You notice it, the dry mouth and heavy lungs,” said hooker Sean Cronin. “Maybe that day we had there will stand to us; it will be a tough test, and the lads will know what to expect from a physical and free-flowing team.”
Leinster’s win puts them top of Conference B with maximum points, while Munster lead Conference A after their win over Ospreys.
A limp and lacklustre occasion with an underwhelming encounter to match was exactly the kind of first impression the Guinness PRO14 could have done without in these parts.
The league’s expansion into South Africa felt rushed when it was announced and this first game on Southern Hemisphere soil appeared to confirm that suspicion.
Local interest is low, the teams are ill-prepared and the competition will suffer as a result.
Up in Bloemfontein, a bigger crowd turned out for the Cheetahs try-fest against Zebre thanks, in part, to a sponsor-led ticket giveaway. It was more encouraging and finally ended the South African winless streak, but there remains much road to travel.