Andries Strauss will captain the Kings in their clash with the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein this weekend with Luke Watson relegated to the bench.
Director of Rugby, Alan Solomons, said the decision to bench Watson had been made following a number of factors.
“Just to put perspective on it, Luke sustained a bad ankle injury at the end of last season and missed the last couple of games. He worked very hard, he is extremely professional and diligent, to get his fitness up to speed, which he did by the last pre-season game against the Griquas,” he said.
“Unfortunately in the first game, against the Western Force, Luke sustained a nasty throat injury where he fractured a bone in his throat that made things extremely difficult in that it partially blocked his airway and made training impossible.”
Solomons said Watson had restarted training while the team was on tour and had played a full 80 minutes against the SWD Eagles in the Vodacom Cup the week before the team returned.
He said he had discussed Watson’s fitness with him as well as the medical and conditioning team ahead of the Bulls game and had decided that they would start him and play him for 40 to 45 minutes, which they did.
“Obviously Luke is our captain. He is an experienced player with international experience and Super Rugby experience,” he said
Watson is replaced at No.8 by Jacques Engelbrecht, but Solomons said he would definitely come off the bench against the Cheetahs.
“With the Cheetahs match up-country, there is the altitude factor and in discussions with the conditioning and medical staff, it was decided it would be more appropriate for him to come off the bench against a team who play at pace and with a high tempo.”
Engelbrecht’s inclusion was one of several changes made to the team which lost to the Bulls 34-0 on the weekend.
Wing Sergeal Petersen remains sidelined with a lingering groin injury, giving Siyanda Grey a chance on the wing, along with Michael Killian, who has recovered from injury.
“Sergeal’s groin is still not 100% and on discussing it with the medical staff, we feel that it would not be worth risking.”
“He is a young guy, an athlete and wing. If he tears the groin muscle, it could not only affect his playing this season, but his career going forward. He is a young 18-year-old who has a marvellous career ahead of him and we feel that to be cautious at this point in time is the right thing for him,” said Solomons.
Marcello Sampson will sit out and Ronnie Cooke, who had been doing duty on the wing for the past few matches, returns to centre in place of Waylon Murray, who was named on the bench.
Besides Watson, the only other change in the forwards saw Rynier Bernardo replacing David Bulbring in a rotational move.
French hooker Virgile Lacombe has also been named on the bench, having recovered from his rib injury and having come off a strong showing in the second half of the Vodacom Cup game against the Sharks XV this past weekend.
Southern Kings: 15 George Whitehead, 14 Michael Killian, 13 Ronnie Cooke, 12 Andries Strauss (captain), 11 Siyanda Grey, 10 Demetri Catrakilis, 9 Shaun Venter, 8 Jacques Engelbrecht, 7 Wimpie van der Walt, 6 Cornell du Preez, 5 Rynier Bernardo, 4 Steven Sykes, 3 Kevin Buys, 2 Bandise Maku, 1 Schalk Ferreira.
Replacements: 16 Virgile Lacombe, 17 Grant Kemp, 18 David Bulbring, 19 Luke Watson, 20 Nicolas Vergallo, 21 Waylon Murray, 22 Siviwe Soyizwapi.
Date: Saturday 26 April
Venue: Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein
Kick-off: 19:10 SA Time (17:10 GMT)
Referee: Jonathan White (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Marius Jonker (South Africa), Stefan Breytenbach (South Africa)
TMO: Deon van Blommestein (South Africa)