What should be an ordinary Super Rugby clash between the Southern Kings and Bulls today (7.15pm) will be a cauldron of emotions as players on both sides wear their hearts on their sleeves in taking on former teammates.
It will be an emotional return to Port Elizabeth for Bulls fullback SP Marais, who abruptly left the Kings earlier this year in the aftermath of his fallout with his then-employers about the non-payment of his salary and his being deemed surplus to requirements for their Super Rugby campaign.
Marais had made the move back to the Eastern Cape at the end of last year after plying his trade for the Sharks. His acrimonious break-up with the Kings left the fullback feeling bitter and he openly criticised the Eastern Province Rugby Football Union for leaving many players and management members out in the wilderness, surviving on handouts.
Marais is not alone in having made the long trek to the capital. He follows in the footsteps of prop Lizo Gqoboka, who jumped ship in early December, signing a long-term deal with the Bulls.
Gqoboka will be spared the emotion of playing against his friends as he has a hand injury, but Marais will have an opportunity to play against his former teammates.
Former Springbok hooker Bandise Maku jumped ship from the Kings two years ago after the Eastern Cape franchise were relegated from Super Rugby, but he harbours none of the bitterness Marais has.
For Maku, it will be about getting some valuable game time under his belt as he has been a supportive spectator from the Bulls bench, with captain Adriaan Strauss playing ahead of him.
“I spoke to SP about his returning to Port Elizabeth and the emotions and he gave me the assurance he is mentally and physically ready to play,” said Bulls coach Nollis Marais.
“He understands the team come first and it won’t help getting emotional and thinking about revenge. He is a good player and his experience will be invaluable for us.”
However, there will be some resentment on the Kings side as well, with players like fullback Jurgen Visser and flyhalf Louis Fouche out to prove a point against the Bulls, who relieved them of their duties last year.
Visser had all but cemented his place in the Bulls team, having played three seasons under former coach Frans Ludeke, but lost ground last year to Springbok Jesse Kriel.
Fouche, too, fell out of favour at Loftus with the rise of Springbok flyhalf Handre Pollard and was discarded a year and a half ago to continue his rugby in Japan.
Big running centre Stefan Watermeyer is another product of the Bulls youth structures, but it is a long time since he left Pretoria for greener pastures in Europe.
On his return Watermeyer went to the Pumas, before joining the Kings at the end of last year.
While the emotions will fuel today’s derby, it will be important for both teams not to stray from the ultimate prize of victory. - Saturday Star
Original source: Kings have a point to prove