Night of emotion looms at Bay stadium as curtain comes down on Super Rugby
There will be a heady mix of nostalgia coupled with keen anticipation of what the future holds when the Southern Kings and Cheetahs bid farewell to Super Rugby at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium tonight.
Adding extra emotion to the occasion will be a well-deserved 50th Super Rugby cap for 33-year-old Kings prop Schalk Ferrreira, who will be playing off the bench.
Ferreira, who starred for the Kings in their debut Super Rugby season in 2013, has said the team want to leave a legacy in their final Super Rugby season.
Players like Ferreira have epitomised the fighting spirit of the Kings, who have not allowed off-field speculation about their future to impact on their performances.
The Kings and Cheetahs have been axed from a slimmed down Super Rugby competition and are set to join an enlarged European Pro12 league later this year.
Looming European adventures, however, will be the last thing on the minds of both teams as they bid to exit the global competition on a high.
This year has been the most successful of the Kings’ three Super Rugby campaigns and they have six wins from 14 games under their belt.
A victory over the Sharks in May signalled a first win for the Kings over South African opposition and they will be hoping for another derby win following their success over the Bulls last week.
The Kings have never beaten the Cheetahs in Super Rugby and they will fancy their chances of ending their hoodoo against a team that have won only three games this year.
For many of the Kings players it will be their last appearance for the Eastern Cape franchise and they will be fired up to go out on a high.
It will also be an emotional night for Kings head coach Deon Davids who, having forged a formidable combination over the past few months, will now have to begin a rebuilding process.
Ahead of his team’s final game, Davids praised his history-making outfit.
“I am really proud of how this team has performed this season,” Davids said.
“I said to the guys it was hard to believe that this would be our last week training together with this squad.
“I am amazed at the amount of growth we, as a management team, have seen in this team from the time we first got together for our pre-season.
“From the start this side showed signs of self-belief and dedication, and although many others would not have given them a chance, they continued to work hard to ensure that we played a good brand of rugby and produced the results.
“I am immensely proud of every one of the members of this entire squad who have been part of our set-up this season.
“It is this special group who have proven that with dedication, belief, hard work and a great team culture anything is possible. It has been an absolute pleasure being at the helm of such a special group.”
Tonight’s teams: Southern Kings: Malcolm Jaer, Wandile Mjekevu, Berton Klaasen, Luzuko Vulindlu, Makazole Mapimpi, Lionel Cronje (capt), Louis Schreuder, Andisa Ntsila, Tyler Paul, Chris Cloete, Wilhelm van der Sluys, Giant Mtyanda, Ross Geldenhuys, Michael Willemse, Mzamo Majola. Replacements: Martin Bezuidenhout, Schalk Ferreira, Dayan van der Westhuizen, Irne Herbst/ Mzwanele Zito, Thembelani Bholi, Rudi van Rooyen, Masixole Banda, Waylon Murray/Yaw Penxe. Cheetahs: Clayton Blommetjies‚ William Small-Smith‚ Francois Venter (capt)‚ Clinton Swart‚ Raymond Rhule‚ Fred Zeilinga‚ Tian Meyer‚ Niell Jordaan‚ Teboho Mohoje‚ Uzair Cassiem‚ Daniel Hugo‚ Carl Wegner‚ Johannes Coetzee‚ Elandre Huggett‚ Retshegofaditswe Nche. Replacements: Joseph Dweba‚ Charles Marais‚ Tom Botha‚ Armandt Koster‚ Junior Pokomela‚ Chris Dry‚ Ruan van Rensburg‚ Niel Marais. Referee: Shuhei Kubo (Japan) Kickoff is at 7pm