Demetri Catrakilis represents WP’s best chance of winning the Currie Cup title at Newlands this Saturday, writes JON CARDINELLI.
Last Saturday, the Western Province flyhalf made yet another statement. Through weight of performance, Catrakilis delivered a powerful reminder of his ability to influence a knockout match.
Catrakilis slotted five goals from six attempts, as well as a drop goal in the dying minutes. Over the course of the match, he kicked well out of hand to drive the Blue Bulls back into their own territory. His vision and execution was patent in the buildup to Cheslin Kolbe’s second try, as he pushed through a clever grubber kick for teammates to chase.
In 2014, Catrakilis has started in nine out of a possible 11 Currie Cup matches. WP have won on all nine occasions. Province have played some brilliant rugby at times, and it’s significant that Catrakilis has been at No 10 for the bulk of the campaign.
That he should start against the Golden Lions in the final this Saturday should not be up for debate. And yet, there are still those who refuse to acknowledge that Catrakilis is a match-winner – at least at this level – of some renown.
After the semi-final against the Bulls at Newlands, former Springbok coach Nick Mallett said that Catrakilis must make way for the more attack-minded Kurt Coleman. I can't agree. No disrespect to one of rugby's sharpest minds, but I fail to see the logic in backing Coleman ahead of a player who offers a team so much more than a flicker on attack.
As mentioned, Catrakilis has played in that position for the bulk of the 2014 campaign. WP have played with attacking intent when Catrakilis has started, but also with balance. His accurate tactical kicking has ensured that WP have dominated territory more often than not, and his skill set has proved a good foil to that of Juan de Jongh, Cheslin Kolbe and Seabelo Senatla.
With Catrakilis at 10, WP are more than an attacking side. They're the complete package.
On Saturday night, Mallett said that Coleman will ask more questions of the opposition defence in the coming final. Mallett criticised Catrakilis and compared him to Morné Steyn.
Mallett meant it as a slight, but when you think about it, it should be viewed as a compliment. Steyn is very strong mentally, and has slotted some championship-winning goals for the Boks over the years.
Catrakilis and Coleman have both been exceptional in front of goal this year. Both have a 94% record, and coach Allister Coetzee will view this as encouraging as WP heads into a Currie Cup final.
Coleman has missed just one attempt on goal this season, but what’s significant is that he's only taken 17 shots over the course of the campaign. Catrakilis has missed three out of 49. That is some record.
Catrakilis is a proven match-winner. Against all odds, he helped WP secure a title playing against a Springbok-laden Sharks side in Durban in 2012. His goal- and drop-kicking expertise helped the Southern Kings land some record-breaking wins in their debut season last year. He has since kicked the Stormers and WP to some important victories.
I’m not suggesting that Catrakilis should be elevated to the Bok squad, or that he has more potential than his opposite number for Saturday's final, Marnitz Boshoff. What I am saying is Catrakilis has shown that he has the temperament and the skill to be the difference at Currie Cup level, and it would be foolish to discard him for someone who has only shown flashes of brilliance.
I haven’t seen Coleman show much consistency in the application of his patent talent. I also haven’t seen Coleman win many games for his side.
Indeed, WP have lost two games in this year’s campaign, and Coleman started on both occasions. I’m not saying he is completely to blame, but I am suggesting that he doesn't possess the necessary all-round skills and that he isn’t the leader a flyhalf should be.
Coleman was the standout during the first half of the final league clash against the Sharks. He was flawless in front of goal and scored two tries as WP took a 20-11 half-time lead. In the second half, however, the Sharks stormed back to win 28-20. Coleman was anonymous during that second period.
Finals rugby is very different to the game played during the league stages. Many will argue that today’s game is as much about entertainment as it is about winning, but there is too much at stake to play heads-up rugby in a knockout match. Even the Lions will temper their approach for the coming final, and they certainly have the flyhalf in Boshoff to play a balanced game.
Winning is what’s important, and Province haven’t won a title at home since 2001. They need this win desperately, even more so given the pressure that’s on their management team after the Stormers’ worst Super Rugby season since 2006.
The Lions will be difficult to beat this weekend. I'd even tip them as favourites considering their strength up front.
If WP are serious about winning, they will need to back Catrakilis, the man with the golden boot.
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