In a new series on the Cardiff Rugby Life for the new season, I’ll be taking a game-by-game look at the Cardiff Blues’ opponents for the week, looking at key players, trends and weaknesses ahead of the upcoming game.
Next up are the Southern Kings, the South African side who have won just three of their 42 games since entering the Guinness Pro14 at the start of the 2017/18 campaign, finishing bottom of their Conference in both seasons.
When analysing them it’s largely pointless looking at their games during the back end of last season for two reasons; they have parted company with their head coach Deon Davids, and there has been a huge player turnover with 19 players coming in, and 21 heading out the door.
As a result all the analysis below is taken from the Kings’ game against the Georgia national team, which they narrowly lost 20-24, although the Georgian team that day showed little resemblance to that which lined up against Wales earlier this week.
However, there is still a few trends that can be picked up on…
The first is what new signing Demetri Catrakilis will bring to the Southern Kings having returned to the club after four players playing in the Northern Hemisphere for Montpellier and Harlequins.
Since coming into the league what’s been quote obvious is that, while they are a potent attacking force, they lack the necessary game management ability to control encounters from a commanding position.
As a result they struggle to stay ahead in matches, but with Catrakilis’ kicking game they can potentially look to make it harder for the opposition to keep up with their points scoring, as well as it allows for them to vary their attacking game, increasing opportunities getting over the try line.
The other weapon they have, possibly overlooked by many due to their ability to spin the ball wide, is the carrying game, which worked well against Georgia.
It’s not only the power which you’d expect from a set of South African supporters, but the speed of ball which they create and how quickly their carriers get around the corner.
For Cardiff Blues the smart decisions will have to be whether to jackal and attempt the turnover, or form up for the next phase. Get it wrong, particularly going for the jackal and not being successful, and the chances of being made to pay are high.
Finally for Cardiff Blues, the lineout will be a really key area of the game.
Ours, as we saw particularly in the second half of last season, really struggled to get going, languishing at around a 75% success rate, while plenty of ball that was secured was either scrappy or safely to the front.
Southern Kings, on the other hand, had an excellent performing lineout against Georgia, and even managed to steal ball comfortably on the occasion shown in the clip. If we are to compete, then the set piece will have to function very well.
While there is plenty in their game for them to be confident about though, there is still an obvious weakness…
Defensively the Southern Kings have been probably the worst side in the league over the last two seasons, quite some accolade considering the Cheetahs and the Dragons are also involved.
Against this Georgia outfit they showed little improvement in their shape, only managing to stay competitive due to the equally poor quality of the Eastern European backs, who have such a poor reputation when compared with their forwards.
The problem for the Kings is how narrowly they defend, and this comes from the decision to leave at least two, usually three, and sometimes even four players in the backfield.
This will allow plenty of space for Cardiff Blues to attack in the outside channels, with the task then being converting good carries and line breaks into tries as we attempt to navigate through those covering defenders.
Plenty of support for attackers, in terms of being on shoulders, available for offloads and securing possession, will be important, as we look to improve on last season’s inability to secure beyond two or three phases into an attack.
It’s going to be an interesting game, as they always are away in South Africa, with Cardiff Blues requiring to be at their absolute best to win it. A long old season lies ahead, but there is a great chance to start it the right way here.