Preview: Kings v Blues

The Blues will be looking for their third consecutive victory when they face the Kings in Port Elizabeth on Saturday.

This will be the first time that these two teams have met. The home side have been hammered in almost every encounter so far this season, conceding an average of 48 points per game.

The Kings' solo victory was against fellow newcomers, the Sunwolves, in the first week of April.

The Blues will be the fourth New Zealand side that the Port Elizabeth side will face, the previous three – Chiefs, Crusaders and Hurricanes – have collectively put 157 points past the South African franchise.

The Kings defence does not only miss tackles regularly but it also leaks tries throughout the match. They have conceded an enormous 54 tries – the most by any team in the competition – ten more than fellow new boys the Sunwolves.

Not only will they have to tighten up their defence but they must stop the Auckland side from getting quality first and second phase ball.

The visitors have scored most of their tries from quick first phase possession, this does not spell good news for the Port Elizabeth side as nearly half the tries they concede are within the first two phases.

The Blues have on average beaten 26 defenders and made 11 clean breaks per game, so given the home side's defence or lack thereof, the New Zealand side are sure to run in a few easy tries. 

There are however a few positives for the home side, two in particular – hooker Edgar Marutlulle, who has scored three tries this season, and sensational flanker CJ Velleman, who has made the most tackles (95) by any South African in the competition.

Blues pivot Ihaia West has been in excellent form off the tee and this could spell even more disaster for the home side given their discipline. 

Head coach Deon Davids and his men will have to tick a few boxes before they stand any chance of sneaking an unlikely victory.

Their defence will need to be more clinical, the penalty count lowered and most importantly and probably the biggest ask for them will be to stop the Blues from getting quick ball.

Velleman will in all likelihood lead the defensive effort, once again, with the likes of Maratlulle, Shane Gates and left winger Luzuko Vulindlu hoping to launch a few rare attacking opportunities.

The three-time champions have however been known to keep ball in hand and in doing so will probably achieve what their fellow countrymen have successfully done – pitch up, destroy and walk off with five valuable points.

Players to watch: The tackling efforts of loose forward CJ Velleman cannot go unnoticed as he, along with Edgar Maratlulle, have been some of the few good spots that have come out this dismal season for Kings back in Super Rugby. The back-rower's tackle count is the highest for any South African player and he has been instrumental in keeping scores somewhat respectable.

Outside centre George Moala has shown his class in the midfield and will be making his 50th Super Rugby appearance for the Blues. The 25-year-old has been vital on defence for the Auckland side as his big hits have helped them keep out talented opposition. Ihaia West's kicking form will surely help the visitors exert even more pressure on the lacklustre defence of the Kings.

Team news: The Kings have made three changes to their starting line-up. A hand injury means loosehead prop Schalk Ferreira misses out and he is replaced in the side by Sithembiso Sithole for the home fixture.

Elsewhere, James Hall gets the nod at scrum-half in place of Ntando Kebe while the full-back jersey will be filled by Jurgen Visser, who takes over from Jaco van Tonder, with head coach Deon Davids explaining that the latter two calls were tactical switches due to weather conditions.

Meanwhile, midfielder George Moala will play his 50th game for the Blues. The 25-year-old will be the most capped Blues player in the backline to take on the Kings in the first of the Blues’ three-match tour that includes the high-flying Lions in Johannesburg and the Force in Perth.

They return for a much anticipated clash against the Crusaders at Eden Park before the June international break. Melani Nanai, who had three starts early in the season, returns to start on the right wing in place of Rieko Ioane, who has joined the All Blacks Sevens.

The other changes come in the front-row with Ofa Tu’ungafasi, who has played in every game this year, getting a start after four games coming off the bench, swapping with Charlie Faumuina. Northland captain Matt Moulds will be looking for his first game of the season, named on the bench as replacement hooker, after two caps last year.

Form: The Port Elizabeth side are returning home after they were handed yet another thumping, this time it was the Jaguares who dished out a 73-27 hiding in Buenos Aires last week. The Port Elizabeth side are languishing at the bottom of the Africa Two Conference table, eight points adrift of the third placed Jaguares. The visitors were off to a flying start in the opening round after a 33-31 victory over defending champions, the Highlanders. Despite a 25-all draw against the Reds in Round Four, the Blues have managed to bounce back with victories over the Sharks and Rebels in Round 9 and 10 respectively. They are however at the foot of the New Zealand Conference table eight points adrift the Highlanders.

Prediction: The Kings have conceded an average of nearly 50 points so far this season and we don't expect this one to go any differently. The Blues will be too strong for the home side and beat them by at least 20 points.

The teams:

Kings: 15 Jurgen Visser, 14 Lukhanyo Am, 13 Stefan Watermeyer, 12 Shane Gates, 11 Luzuko Vulindlu, 10 Elgar Watts, 9 James Hall, 8 CJ Velleman, 7 Thembelani Bholi, 6 Chris Cloete, 5 JC Astle, 4 Steven Sykes (c), 3 Tom Botha, 2 Edgar Marutlulle, 1 Sithembiso Sithole
Replacements: 16 Martin Ferreira, 17 Justin Ackerman, 18 Jacobie Adriaanse, 19 Schalk Oelofse, 20 Stefan Willemse, 21 Ntando Kebe, 22 Louis Fouche, 23 Leighton Eksteen

Blues: 15 Lolagi Visinia, 14 Melani Nanai, 13 George Moala, 12 Piers Francis, 11 Tevita Li, 10 Ihaia West, 9 Bryn Hall, 8 Steven Luatua, 7 Tanerau Latimer, 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Josh Bekhuis, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu, 3 Ofa Tu’ungafasi, 2 James Parsons (c), 1 Sam Prattley
Replacements: 16 Matt Moulds, 17 Nic Mayhew, 18 Charlie Faumuina, 19 Hoani Matenga, 20 Kara Pryor, 21 Billy Guyton, 22 Matt McGahan, 23 Male Sa’u

Date: Saturday, May 7
Venue: Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, Port Elizabeth
Kick-off: 17:10 local (15:10 GMT)
Referee: Mike Fraser
Assistant Referees: Paul Williams, Aki Aso
TMO: Takashi Hareda