SOUTHERN Kings director of rugby Alan Solomons has targeted a top-four finish in the South African conference in next year’s Super Rugby series, and says although the season will be challenging, his team relishes the prospect of making its debut in the competition.
Also, the lack of faith in the team’s abilities by the public would inspire them rather than dampen their spirits, he said on Tuesday.
Such has been the determination in the Kings camp to make their presence felt next season, that the team began their preseason training on November 19 and will conclude the first leg of their preparation next Friday, with the team set to work on specific aspects of their game when they reassemble on January 3.
Solomons said this gruelling preseason schedule was necessary to ensure the players were in peak physical condition for the demanding competition and to prepare them mentally for the challenge ahead.
"The players have been working very hard, and though the five-week preseason is long after playing 18 back-to-back games (including the Currie Cup first division and the promotion-relegation playoff matches) toward the end of this season, we don’t have a choice," he said.
"Some of the players in our squad have played Super Rugby, but others haven’t, so we have to ensure everyone is ready to compete at that level mentally and physically.
"In the last few weeks the focus has been mainly on conditioning, with one or two technical things, but there will be a more intense focus on the specific aspects of our game in the new year.
"Unfortunately, we do not have the luxury of Super Rugby experience such as the Stormers, Sharks and Bulls, so we have no choice but to work harder."
Despite being written off by the public already to register a single victory next season, Solomons said they believed in themselves as a team and they were determined to make the most of the chance to play in a top-class competition.
"It is correct that we have been written off and that will only spur us on," the coach said. "We are under no illusions that we face a massive challenge and we know it will take a lot of hard work and determination to do well, but we are excited. We have waited a long time to secure a Super Rugby franchise and it is now up to us to make the most of it."
Solomons adopted a realistic view regarding their goals for the season, and said: "This will be our first season of Super Rugby and we understand that the standard of rugby will be very high, but we are also cognisant of the fact that the last-placed team will have to play promotion-relegation fixtures against the Lions, and we are determined to avoid that. So our goals are to be competitive and to finish in the top four."
The Kings will be up against it, as they have been handed a tough draw, starting with a clash against the Western Force at home, followed by a bye, home games against the Sharks and Chiefs and then their four-week Australasian tour, before returning to South Africa for the home leg.
"There is no doubt that we have a tough draw," Solomons said. "And it is particularly unfortunate that our first bye is in the second week of the series, but we have factored that into our planning. We then face last year’s finalists (the Sharks and Chiefs) and line up against the Crusaders in our first tour game, so it will be a challenging test, but we cannot do anything about it. We have to accept the draw and do our best."
Despite the current laws favouring attacking rugby, Solomons said it was important to play "balanced" rugby to be successful.
"Every team wants to play attractive running rugby, but it is important to adapt, and that requires being able to vary our style of play. Balance will be very important because the type of rugby one plays depends on several factors, including the opponents, the weather and the way the referee officiates."