The Southern Kings are a rugby union team based in Port Elizabeth, South Africa that compete in the annual Super Rugby competition. The creation of the team was formally announced at the opening of the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium on 16 June 2009, in time to coincide with the 2009 British and Irish Lions tour to South Africa.
For the 2013 season, the Kings' catchment area was made up of the Eastern Cape and parts of the Western Cape, drawing players from 3 provincial unions, namely the Eastern Province Kings, based in Port Elizabeth (representing the southern half of the Eastern Cape), the Border Bulldogs, based in East London (representing the northern half of the Eastern Cape) and the SWD Eagles, based in George (representing the South Western Districts). However, after the South African Rugby Union took over the running of the franchise in November 2015, the franchise had no formal ties to any of the provincial unions.
In 2005, there was an attempt to bring a Super Rugby side to the Eastern Cape province in the form of the Southern Spears, who were intended to participate in the Super 14 from 2007 onwards; however, their proposed entry into the competition led to considerable controversy within the country's rugby establishment. In April 2006, after concerns over the team's financial stability and sporting competitiveness, the Spears were denied entry into the Super 14. Following this, the Southern Spears ceased to exist.
In January 2009, SARU announced that a new franchise in the Eastern Cape Province would be launched in June of that year to coincide with the arrival of the British and Irish Lions in Port Elizabeth for one of their midweek tour matches. The franchise was launched with the goal of a future place in Super Rugby, but no timetable was initially set. The President of the Eastern Province Rugby Union, Cheeky Watson, said "there is a desperate hunger for top-flight rugby in the South Eastern Cape and this is the first step to satisfying it." The franchise was officially announced in April 2009.
They played their first ever match against the British and Irish Lions on 16 June 2009, losing 8–20 in a midweek match in Port Elizabeth. The team's first points were scored by Jaco van der Westhuyzen and their first try was scored by Mpho Mbiyozo.
They also played in the 2011 IRB Nations Cup, where they participated as the South African Kings. They won all three their games, beating Georgia, Romania and Portugal on their way to winning the competition.
On 19 May 2009, Super Rugby governing body SANZAR announced that the existing Super 14 competition would be expanded to 15 teams from the 2011 season onwards. The expansion would participate in the Australian Conference, but was open to tenders from all territories, with teams from Australia, New Zealand and South Africa expressing an interest. This was eventually reduced to just two bidders, the Melbourne Rebels and the Southern Kings. On 11 November 2009, SANZAR arbitrators awarded the 15th licence to the Melbourne Rebels, with geographical location and commercial value swaying the decision in the Australian franchise's favour.
The South African Rugby Union were undeterred in their effort to bring Super Rugby to the Eastern Cape and on 27 January 2012, they confirmed that the Kings would participate in the 2013 Super Rugby season. Despite no initial decision as to how they will be accommodated in the competition, it was confirmed on 16 August 2012 that the Kings would take part at the expense of the Lions. They also announced that two-legged promotion/relegation play-off series would be played between the lowest-placed South African side in Super Rugby and the non-participating franchise every season.
The Kings made their Super Rugby debut on 23 February 2013, when they played in a Round Two match against Australian side the Force at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium. The Kings won the game 22–10, with Sergeal Petersen scoring two tries and Demetri Catrakilis contributing twelve points with the boot. They lost their next two home matches to the Sharks and the Chiefs before embarking on their tour of Australasia. They lost both their matches in New Zealand – against the Crusaders and Hurricanes respectively – but picked up log points in Australia; a try from flanker Cornell du Preez three minutes into injury time and subsequent conversion from Catrakilis helped them secure a 28–all draw against eventual Australian Conference winners the Brumbies in Canberra and they went one better the following week, beating the Rebels 30–27, with a late Wimpie van der Walt try helping them to the win. Upon their return to South Africa, they suffered three consecutive defeat, with the Bulls, Cheetahs and Waratahs all beating the Kings. The Kings beat the Highlanders 34–27 in their next match to secure their first ever bonus point victory, but lost their last five matches of the season, losing to the Cheetahs, and the Stormers before the international break, and to the Bulls, Stormers and Sharks when the season resumed.
The Kings' top try scorer in the competition was Wimpie van der Walt, who got six tries and their top points scorer was Demetri Catrakilis, who scored 151 points. However, despite three victories and a draw, the Kings finished bottom of the South African Conference and had to play a two-legged promotion/relegation play-off series against the Lions. The Lions beat the Kings 26–19 in Port Elizabeth in the first leg, but bounced back to emerge victorious in Johannesburg, with Scott van Breda scoring 18 points in a 23–18 victory. However, this was not enough to retain their Super Rugby status, as the Lions won 44–42 on aggregate to return them to Super Rugby in 2014 at the expense of the Kings.
After the end of the 2013 Super Rugby season, the Kings lost several players to other teams. Director of Rugby Alan Solomons also left to join Edinburgh Rugby and head coach Matt Sexton later also announced that he was leaving the Kings to return to his home country New Zealand.
On 4 September 2013, SANZAR boss Greg Peters confirmed that South Africa would get a sixth Super Rugby franchise from 2016, as the competition expanded once again. This was reiterated in 2014 when SANZAR confirmed that the competition would expand to 18 teams, with teams from Argentina and Japan joining the competition.
Having lost the promotion/relegation play-off to the Lions, the Kings missed out on Super Rugby in 2014. They also agreed to sit out the 2015 season by withdrawing from the proposed promotion/relegation match at the end of 2014. In exchange, the Eastern Province Kings were guaranteed participation in the 2014 and 2015 Currie Cup competitions, intended to aid the team's preparation for a return to Super Rugby in 2016.
Their return to Super Rugby was beset by financial problems, with players' salaries being paid late in four consecutive months between August and November 2015. In November 2015, the South African Rugby Union took control of the Southern Kings franchise and revealed an operational plan on 4 December 2015; the plan included the appointment of SWD Eagles coach Deon Davids as the head coach for 2016, the identification of a fully transformed squad that they intended signing and a guarantee to pay the Southern Kings' staff and players.
The Kings made their return to Super Rugby on 27 February 2016, when they hosted the Sharks in Port Elizabeth. Despite a Chris Cloete try opening the scoring for the Kings, the visitors eventually won the match 43–8. They lost to New Zealand side the Chiefs at home despite a trace of tries by hooker Edgar Marutlulle, before embarking on a trip to New Zealand, where they also suffered defeats to the Crusaders and the Hurricanes. They returned to South Africa to face fellow newcomers, Japanese side the Sunwolves and got their first victory of the season, a 33–28 victory in which they scored four tries. The Kings then suffered six consecutive defeats, losing at home to fellow South African sides the Bulls and the Lions, away to Argentine side the Jaguares – a 27–73 defeat to set a new Kings record for most points conceded in a match, despite scoring four tries of their own – an 18–34 defeat at home to New Zealand side the Blues and two more defeats against South African sides the Cheetahs and the Sharks. The Kings returned to winning ways in their next match, beating the Jaguares 29–22 – also securing a bonus point by virtue out scoring four tries to one, but they were aided by two red cards for the visitors – before losing their last three matches of the season to the Highlanders, Lions and Stormers respectively.
Chris Cloete, Edgar Marutlulle and captain Steven Sykes were the joint-top try scorers for the Kings with four tries apiece, while fly-half Louis Fouché was the top points scorer with 81. They finished bottom of the four teams in the Africa 2 Conference, seventh in the South African Group and 17th overall, with just the Japanese Sunwolves team finishing the season with a worse record.
The Southern Kings full playing record against other teams is:
The Southern Kings full playing record in all competitions are:
The Southern Kings squad for the 2017 Super Rugby season is:
The following coaching team was announced for the 2017 Super Rugby season:
In addition to the staff members listed above, the Kings would also be assisted by members of the South African Rugby Union's Mobi-Unit.
Super Rugby records (updated 4 March 2017):
Note: The above records exclude the promotion/relegation matches played at the end of the 2013 Super Rugby season.