The Southern Kings have named Andries Strauss as captain, with Luke Watson coming on from the bench for their Vodacom Super Rugby match against the Toyota Cheetahs on Saturday in Bloemfontein.
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."
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
“For this particular game, however, we are playing up country in Bloemfontein, there is an altitude factor and after discussing it with the conditioning and medical staff, as part of the plan for Luke’s full re-entry into Super Rugby, I have decided that the most appropriate thing would be for him to come in off the bench.”
Solomons said Sergeal Petersen was also not up for selection after continuing concerns over the groin strain he had sustained last week during training, despite initial indications that he was eligible for selection.
“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.”
Solomons said Petersen’s unavailability presented an opportunity for Siyanda Grey to make his Super Rugby debut, while Marcello Sampson was also being rested, making way for Michael Killian, who missed out the first half of the season after breaking his arm before the start of the season.
Ronnie Cooke will move back to centre for Waylon Murray, who is also on the bench. Upfront, Rynier Bernardo will start at lock while David Bulbring moves to the bench, while Jacques Engelbrecht takes over from Watson at No 8.
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.
The Southern Kings team is: George Whitehead, Siyanda Grey, Ronnie Cooke, Andries Strauss (captain), Michael Killian, Demetri Catrakillis, Shaun Venter; Jacques Engelbrecht, Wimpie van der Walt, Cornell du Preez, Rynier Bernardo, Steven Sykes, Kevin Buys, Bandise Maku, Schalk Ferreira. Replacements: Virgile Lacombe, Grant Kemp, David Bulbring, Luke Watson, Nicolas Vergallo, Waylon Murray, Siviwe Soyzwapi.