THE Eastern Province Kings have named a strong team to take on the Pampas XV in their opening Vodacom Cup rugby match of the season at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium tomorrow (kick-off 4:15pm).
It will be a tough early test for skipper Mpho Mbiyozo and his Kings outfit who are expecting to face a stiff challenge in a match which will be a curtain-raiser to the Super Rugby showdown between the Southern Kings and Sharks.
The Kings have chosen a team with a good blend of youth and experience and the backline looks particularly strong with the inclusion of the explosive Siyanda Grey and Norman Nelson.
EP Kings head coach David Maidza said his team were looking forward to their encounter against Pampas and were planning to get their season off to a winning start.
"Playing the Pampas is a great opportunity for us to measure ourselves against, as they have proved a very competitive side" he said.
Maidza said the team would run out under the leadership of Mbiyozo and Wayne Stevens would be vice-captain.
"We also have Samora Fihlani who will be taking to the field in EP colours for the first time," Maidza said.
Fihlani came through the Border youth system and played for their under-21 team in 2005 and 2006.
In 2008, he graduated to the first team, making his debut in the 2010 Vodacom Cup season against the Golden Lions.
Maidza said Argentine test star Tomas Leonardi, who will take to the field at No6, was also looking forward to the game.
"Tomas is raring to go and play against his countrymen, having played for Pampas last year," he said.
French hooker Virgile Lacombe has been named among the replacements and will be hoping he gets a chance to show what he is capable of.
This year marks the 15th anniversary of the Vodacom Cup, which has proved to be South Africa's premier rugby development tournament In 1998, three years after Nelson Mandela donned the No6 jersey of Springbok team captain François Pienaar and shook his hand after SA's first Rugby World Cup win. It was a moment that would change the face of South African rugby and our country forever, and the Vodacom Cup was born.
The SA Rugby Union (Saru) realised the need to create a tournament which could act as a breeding ground for young, up-and-coming, exciting talent from all walks of life and afford those players with previously limited opportunities, the chance to wear their province's colours and showcase their skills to a wider audience with the hope of one day wearing the coveted green and gold.
Saturday's other Vodacom Cup fixtures:
Boland Cavaliers v WP in Ceres, Golden Lions v Leopards XV at Pirates Rugby Club, Johannesburg, Pumas v Valke at Mbombela Stadium, Nelspruit, Griquas v Vodacom Blue Bulls at GWK Park, Kimberley, Assupol Limpopo Blue Bulls v Griffons at Peter Mokaba Stadium, Polokwane.
The Kings team: Siviwe "Shakes" Soyizwapi, Michael Killian, Siyanda Grey, Wayne Stevens, Norman Nelson, Wesley Dunlop, Scott Mathie, Brendan Olivier, Coenraad Britz, Charl du Plessis, Tomas Leonardi, Rynier Bernardo, Samora Fihlani, Mpho Mbiyozo (capt), Devin Oosthuizen.
Replacements: Virgile Lacombe, Ross Geldenhuys, Aidon Davis, Kusela Moyake, Yuseph "Boela" Abrahams, Ntabeni Dukis, Scott van Breda.