This weekend see one of the less popular matches in a competition, but still one that can be extremely entertaining to watch. The battle for last (or second last) place, here nothing but pride and determination drive players over the line. The last match of the weekend sees the rookie Southern Kings host the bottom feeding Highlanders in Port Elizabeth.
This year it is no surprise that the tournament new boys, the Southern Kings, are sitting near the basement of Super Rugby. Despite showing some good form winning their first match against the Force and being able to hold the table topping Brumbies to a draw, they are still learning what playing Super Rugby is all about. This was clearly evident in last week’s 10-72 mauling at the hands of the mid table Waratahs at home in PE. Their season has been helped by the constant support of their packed stadium and loyal fans, but one has to ask how much of this is because of the thrill of their long awaited inclusion in Super Rugby. I do believe they have shown enough to prove they belong in Super Rugby, but as we have seen many times before, to keep the fans after this initial all singing all dancing season they need to win. How long will it be until the fans get bored of watching their team lose (even by close margins) and start deserting them? *See Lions Super Rugby over the last 5 years.*
The Highlanders have been the tournament surprise this year, but not in a good way. It seems that despite the Strength and depth of New Zealand rugby, there is always one team that struggles each year. Last year it was the Blues who could not buy a win, now it is the men from Dunedin. The Landers sit in last place with their first win out of nice matches coming in an impressive display against the Sharks last week. One would feel that the Landers have been unlucky, missing out on the W by a couple of points most weeks. Despite a potent backline and a handful of All Blacks in their ranks, their forwards have let them down all season. Its seems that the money they spent in the off season picking up veteran players like Ma’Nonu and Tony Woodcock have actually hindered them in denying their budding youngsters with essential game time this year.
Despite their negative seasons on the log, this weekend will bring us a great match. The Kings are desperate to give their fans a win and the Highlanders probably think that if they don’t win against the lowly Kings they may as well shut shop. We are in for some crunching defence from the Kings after last weekend’s embarrassment and some of the scything runs from Landers backs like Hosea Gear, Ben Smith and Tamati Ellison. I don’t think it will be a massively high scoring game, but an old school battle between two desperate teams, a match often forgotten about in the rugby calendar, but one where even the neutral can sit back and enjoy.
Players to watch:
Look out for the Highlanders backs, Hosea Gear, Ben Smith and Tamati Ellison will be looking to run rings around the Kings defence and keep the scoreboard ticking over. The Kings will look to returning captain Luke Watson to rally his troops in order to bounce back from last week’s defeat. Also look out for Schalk Ferreira trying to dominate in the scrums as he has been doing all season, it will be tough work but he looks up for the challenge.
Prediction: Highlanders by 3-5
Kings vs Highlanders, Port Elizabeth, KO 17:05 CAT (16:05 BST)