On Saturday, where Leinster became the first Irish and Pro14 team to play a competitive game in the southern hemisphere, officials gave an attendance figure of 3,011, which looks like a record for inflating numbers at an “historic” occasion.
In truth, this game felt about as historic as the opening of a new post office, and the hundreds of Kings fans who bothered to turn up will probably keep this one to themselves, and leave their grandchildren to simply create their own memories.
It’s hard to imagine the last time Irish eyes were on the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, they were probably watching Holland beat Brazil in the 2010 World Cup quarter-final, with vuvuzela drones creating a horrific soundtrack to an enthralling game.
On Saturday every lineout call could be heard, every shout appealing for space to be closed and one imagines the fans didn’t need an earpiece to hear what referee Ben Whitehouse was saying.
It isn’t always like this in Port Elizabeth, with upwards of 10,000 at their final Super Rugby game against Cheetahs in July, and double that when the Sharks visited just before.
But rain, a squad of also-rans and an early morning hammering by the All Blacks of their national team didn’t help put them in the mood.
“It must be an unbelievably tough challenge for them, they had to get a squad together a few weeks before the season started, without any pre-season effectively,” Leinster boss Leo Cullen said after his side’s five-try 31-10 win. “Things take time, it’s been a difficult backdrop for the Kings, but everything is set up here — it’s a fantastic stadium, and as performances improve I’m sure crowds will too.
“It’s a privilege to come to a country with such strong, rich traditions in the game, and I think it will be great for the league to have a South African presence.”
Cullen said he saw improvements on the Kings side that went down to Scarlets and Connacht in recent weeks, and they did look better, for the first half at least.
They had learned lessons at the breakdown, stole Leinster ball and their pace saw the visitors miss 18 tackles in the first 40 minutes alone.
But they still lack cohesion, which perhaps should not shock anyone, and they didn’t do enough when in the Leinster 22.
Defence is also a major issue for Deon Davids, who saw his players cut open far too easily, and fall off tackles far too often.
“They’re starting to look more like the team I’d have seen in Super Rugby; a lot of threats across the park, some strong carriers as well, and they caused us problems,” Cullen said, generously. “Our guys scrambled well and we were fortunate at times to keep them out.”
With what is close to a second team on show, Leinster will be happy with how they cut loose in the second half, after leading just 7-3 at the break. Noel Reid’s first-half try hinted at a low-scoring occasion, but the bonus point fourth was tied up by the 51st minute, with Rory O’Loughlin, Jack Conan, and Joey Carbery crossing the Kings’ tryline with embarrassing ease. Dave Kearney added a fifth in the final 10 minutes, before Jacques Nel supported Oliver Zono’s break and finally gave the small home support something to cheer.
“When there’s a big stadium and not a lot of people there, you have to bring your own energy. I thought the energy they brought was greater than ours, in the first half,” said Rhys Ruddock, the Leinster skipper. “That left us second best a lot of the time, but we regrouped at half-time. The intent in the second half allowed us a foothold in the game and we grew from there.”
M Banda (N Dukisa 69); Y Penxe, B Klaasen, L Vulindlu (J Nel 59), S Sithole; O Zono, R van Rooyen (G Masimla 51); S Ferreira (P Strauss 61), M Willemse (capt) (S Coetzee 74), L Pupuma (M Drever 54); S Greeff, D van Schalwyk; K Majola, V Sekekete (B de Wee 59), A Ntsila.
J Carbery (J Larmour 59); D Kearney, R O’Loughlin, N Reid, A Byrne; R Byrne (C Marsh 59), L McGrath (N McCarthy 69); E Byrne (C Healy 54), S Cronin (J Tracy 54), A Porter (M Bent 54); R Molony, J Ryan; R Ruddock (capt) (M Kearney 62), J Murphy (J van der Flier 54), J Conan.
B Whitehouse (Wales).