Director of Rugby and interim coach, former Springbok prop Robbie Kempson, believes the building blocks are there for the franchise for future success, and while they are a young side, they will steadily get better as the season goes on.
Kempson is in a caretaker role until a permanent coach is appointed, after Deon Davids parted ways with the team at the end of last season.
The Isuzu Southern Kings had narrow losses to World Cup teams Georgia and Namibia in their pre-season and are looking forward to being competitive under the new coaching team this year.
Apart from Kempson, they added former Springbok Sevens captain Vuyo Zangqa as their attack coach, while former Springbok flyhalf Braam van Straaten is in charge of defence.
Van Straaten previously was assistant coach to Vodacom Super Rugby side the Cell C Sharks, while Zangqa completed a stint as head coach for the Germany 7s side.
The Kings’ opener against Cardiff Blues will provide a litmus test for the hard work put in by the coaching staff, but Kempson is adamant that this is a journey and not a sprint for his side.
“My expectations are for our players to be very competitive and to go out there and play in such a manner so that people can see the changes we have brought about as the Southern Kings and to ensure we start building blocks towards the future,” Kempson said.
“We are not here for a quick fix; we have a number of players in our squad under the age of 23 and to ensure we give them the best possible opportunity to perform on this stage, albeit a very difficult one.
“We know a number of these youngsters will stand up and we can hopefully build a bright future for them.”
While the Blues will be missing Test players on RWC duty, Kempson doesn’t believe it will make the challenge facing his side any easier.
“I don’t think it will make too much of a difference without their Welsh test players – there are quite a couple that have stayed behind and they have a very experienced squad,” he said.
“We are expecting the same as we have in previous seasons – a very experienced and competitive side that is well coached.
Kempson also praised his backroom staff, which includes former All Blacks conditioning coach Wayne Taylor for their professionalism, which he believes has given them a better edge going into their opening game.
“The stand-in job has not been difficult at all, especially as I have some excellent assistants around me – both Vuyo (Zangqa) and Braam (van Straaten) with attack and defence,” he said.
“From the forwards point of view, we have adapted and changed a few things to ensure we are more competitive in terms of our set-piece.
“From the head coach perspective there haven’t been many changes because our backroom staff have been exceptional with their workload and dedication and professionalism.”The game will kick off at 16h00 (SA time) on Saturday and will be live on Supersport.