The Toyota Cheetahs gave the EP Kings a rude awakening to the rigours of top flight rugby as they demolished them 53-14 and virtually ended any chance of the Kings being promoted to the Absa Currie Cup Premier division next season.
What the Kings feared most turned out to be the harsh reality of the evening. Even though the Cheetahs could only win three of their 10 games in the Premier Division, they were miles too good in intensity, passion and drive for the Kings and after 20 minutes in the game, it literally became a discussion about how big the margin of victory would be and not whether the visitors had a chance anymore.
It now means that with the log point system being the first point of call to separate the two sides, the Cheetahs took five points from this encounter and the Kings none. In other words, the Kings would have to win with a four-try bonus point and deny the Cheetahs one in the return fixture in Port Elizabeth next week before they can think of the 39-point deficit they need to overhaul in order to gain promotion.
But there are even more alarm bells ringing in terms of the Kings' participation in next year’s Vodacom Super Rugby series, where competition will be longer, tougher and way more intense than the Kings encountered on a balmy night in Bloemfontein. Even if the coastal franchise finds a few star players to sign at this late stage of the season, their chances of making a positive impact on the competition must be virtually zero at this stage.
While there can be some sympathy with the way they have been hampered by the process in only getting the green light for Super Rugby in August, the Kings still need to explain why -- on a night which was so important to them -- they fielded a team with no local black players in their ranks.
Considering the political capital they have behind them, and the Kings’ status as a region, the sight of Samoan Paul Perez as the only player of colour in the starting line-up will have raised several eyebrows as well.
There was always a danger this would happen, and the Cheetahs, after having their backs against the wall and in a week where they were heavily criticised in their own town by their own supporters, were never going to give an inch to their opponents.
Instead they were ruthless, scoring eight tries to two, and grabbing the important bonus point before half time to ensure the victory was theirs way before the second half started.
WRITING ON THE WALL
And they started in style as a massive build-up showed how patient the home side could be, right until the overlap came and Nico Scheepers ran in at the corner after just five minutes to score the opening try.
Ross Geldenhuys added a second in the next foray into the Kings’ 22, and it wasn’t long after that Phillip van der Walt planted the ball on the line as the Cheetahs extended their lead in the first half.
The coup de grace, however, came as try-scoring sensation Raymond Rhule took the ball in his own half and simply sprinted past the Kings defence on the outside, and then passed to Andries Strauss at just the right moment for him to add the bonus point try.
At 24-0 at the break the writing was on the wall, but the Kings did come out strongly at the start of the second half and scored a brace of tries in just seven minutes as Devin Oosthuizen and Shane Gates touchdowns gave them some hope of closing the gap.
But it was left to the Strauss family to hammer the final nails in the coffin as first Andries went over for his second and then captain Adriaan grabbed an optimistic intercept and sprinted 50 metres to the opposite tryline to seal the Kings' fate.
By the time Rayno Benjamin added his name to the scoresheet, the Kings were already contemplating the long flight home and their future in the first division.
To add insult to injury, the Cheetahs were awarded a penalty try five minutes from time as the Kings pulled down a maul marching its way to the tryline, with Charl du Plessis collecting a yellow card for his troubles.
It was truly a night for the Kings to forget, and a stark reminder of just how far off the pace they actually are.
Toyota Cheetahs – Tries: Nico Scheepers, Ross Geldenhuys, Phillip van der Walt, Andries Strauss (2), Adriaan Strauss, Rayno Benjamin, Penalty try.
Conversions – Scheepers (2), Tewis de Bruyn (3). Penalties: De Bruyn.
EP Kings – tries: Devin Oosthuizen, Shane Gates. Conversions: George Whitehead (2)