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Ryan Vrede

Perspective needed on Catrakilis


Demetri Catrakilis will make his Stormers debut on Saturday Demetri Catrakilis will make his Stormers debut on Saturday

In the context of the Stormers' game plan, Demetri Catrakilis is an infinitely better option than Elton Jantjies, but don't expect him to be the piece of the puzzle that ends their title drought, writes RYAN VREDE.

The recruitment of Jantjies was a perplexing one from the outset. The Lions pivot clearly didn't have the kicking game to fit easily into the Stormers' fold, and neither were they going to completely overhaul their attacking approach to maximise his strengths. They ended up somewhere in between, playing an ugly hybrid of running and pragmatic rugby. 

Having endured a 2013 season where only the Kings and Force scored fewer tries than the Cape franchise did, confirming their attacking problems as chronic, there is a growing frustration and discernable lowering of expectations relating to them. Catrakilis won't do much to galvanise their ball-in-hand attack to the extent that they progress from perennial hopefuls to serious title contenders, but he will be the man to get them into the positions from which to launch these attacks.

His tactical-kicking game was compromised at the Kings because of the consistently poor platform his forwards provided. This is unlikely to be as big an issue with the Stormers, who boast a clutch of world-class forwards, which will allow Catrakilis greater scope to dictate field position, from where the Stormers can attempt to unhinge defences or (more likely) force penalties.

The latter is a means of point-accumulation the Stormers relied on heavily in recent years, and with the coaching staff's inability to improve their attack, the team and their supporters will hope Catrakilis's goal-kicking excellence endures. He shone in the 2013 Currie Cup, sinking 21 from 25 attempts (84%). 

Certainly Catrakilis is not impotent when standing flat to and/or taking on the defensive line, but it isn't his primary strength, and Stormers supporters should temper their expectations accordingly. At best they should hope for that sort of penetration to come from the likes of Jean de Villiers, Gio Aplon, the powerful and promising Damian de Allende and Cheslin Kolbe (when he returns from injury). Catrakilis has shown the ability to orchestrate attacks, but never an aptitude to play the show-stopping solo. And neither should he be asked to. 

With Peter Grant's services likely to only be available to the Stormers after the conclusion of the various Japanese competitions, Catrakilis's first Super Rugby start for the franchise in Johannesburg on Saturday could begin a consistent run in the side. The Stormers missed Grant's all-round skill in 2013 (he suffered an injury that ruled him out of the bulk of the tournament) and Catrakilis is expected to play back-up to him upon his return. That is unless the 24-year-old builds a strong case for himself through his performances in the early rounds.

I suspect, if this happens, it will be based on a sound territorial game and highly accurate goal-kicking, not razzle-dazzle with ball in hand. I hope he understands his game and its limitations in a manner that would see him seek to maximise those strengths.

However, even if Catrakilis burns white-hot, he still isn't the calibre of player that could turn their fortunes in this tournament. There is a myriad reasons for their steady slide into mediocrity in the past three years, with the quality of personnel being low on that list. The problem starts with the likeable but limited coaching staff. Until that changes, Stormers fans should brace for more heartbreak.   

Photo: Grant Pitcher/Gallo Images

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