Robbi Kempson says the Isuzu Southern Kings are prepared for any eventuality regarding the competition structure for the rest of the season, and that they are in high spirits as they look to continue building and improving.
The Isuzu Southern Kings’ High Performance Director and interim head coach admitted that they have come to terms with the indefinite suspension of the Guinness PRO14 season, especially since they were not in contention for a playoff spot when it was announced.
However, according to the former Springbok prop, they will be ready to return to the field if the mooted domestic franchise competition comes to light.
“The players are all on training programmes and they are in regular contact with our conditioning coach, while I have been able to get through some admin and work relating to my role as High Performance Director, so lockdown has been productive,” said Kempson.
“The guys are in good spirits, and it has been entertaining to see some of their training videos with players using their wives and children in exercises.
“We also have a weekly challenge on who sends the best video, which doesn’t necessarily have to be rugby-related, and the players have been having a lot of fun with that.
“JT Jackson (centre) lifted a sheep in one of them which was very funny, while the likes of Yaw Penxe (wing), Luyolo Dapula (flanker) and Bobby de Wee (lock) have been strong on the entertainment front, so there is a good team spirit.”
Kempson adopted a realistic view to how the rest of their season could play out: “We are comfortable with the possibility that the Guinness PRO14 season has come to an end for us and that we will probably only get back to full competition next season.
“We are ready for any eventuality. There may be a possibility of participating in a local franchise competition in the next few months, and if that happens, we could perhaps go straight into the Guinness PRO14 from there, which would be good.
“It was clear last season that the Toyota Cheetahs’ success in the Currie Cup set them in good stead going into the Guinness PRO14.”
But Kempson also warned that the players’ conditioning levels will have taken a dip in the last few weeks, and said a pre-season of sorts would be necessary to ensure that they can switch back into “competition mode”.
Looking back at their opening three seasons of Guinness PRO14, Kempson admitted it was an eye-opener for the players, but he believes the benefits of playing in the Northern Hemisphere showpiece have been valuable in their development.
“I think the players were shocked at first, and having played for Ulster myself, reality certainly sets in when you find yourself playing against teams loaded with internationals every week,” said Kempson.
“That said, I believe this experience will benefit the players immensely because this is a great platform to measure themselves against some of the best in the world.”
Zooming in on their 2019/20 season, which came to a halt after 13 rounds due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Kempson said: “The biggest positive for me has to be the progress made by some of the young players including the likes of Elrigh Louw (utility forward), Bader Pretorius and Siya Masuku (both flyhalves).
“Apart from one or two performances that were extremely disappointing, I believe we made a step-up in the quality of our play, and the fact that opposition teams are no longer fielding sides filled with their academy players, also shows this.
“We competed well for a large part of some of our matches this season, but we dropped off in the end, so our conditioning is something we will focus on when we get back together.”
On a personal note, Kempson has made the most of lockdown by spending quality time with his family, and thanks to his green fingers, he has grown a vegetable garden, while his static bike has allowed him to keep fit.