Demetri Catrakilis's temperament and kicking skills will be the difference in the semi-final between WP and the Blue Bulls on Saturday, writes JON CARDINELLI.
Western Province finished the league stage at the top of the Currie Cup log, winning eight matches and losing two. While they've been the form side in this year's competition, that defeat at Ellis Park exposed a chink in their armour.
Kurt Coleman started at flyhalf against the Golden Lions on that occasion. He kicked well for goal and was influential on attack, but his inaccurate kicking out of hand gifted the Lions counter-attacking chances.
Coleman is a fine attacking flyhalf, but his kicking game is limited. It's for this reason that WP coach Allister Coetzee has opted for Catrakilis as his starting No 10 for the semi-final.
The Greek has the skill set to control the flow of a knockout match as well as clinch the result at the death.
He's done so before. In 2012, he produced a magical all-round performance to guide WP to their first Currie Cup title in 11 years.
He's a good distributor, a fine tactical kicker, and one of the most accurate goal-kickers in South Africa. He also possesses the most underrated of skills, that is the ability to kick drop goals with either foot.
WP will certainly need these skills on Saturday. The 2014 Currie Cup has witnessed some breathtaking running rugby, but it's finals time. The nature of the next three games will be very different to what we've witnessed over the past couple of months.
WP will know what to expect from the Bulls. Jacques-Louis Potgieter is the archetypal Bulls 10, and will look to pressure the WP back three with some well-directed garryowens. The Bulls may also use No 12 Handré Pollard as a tactical-kicking option, just to keep WP guessing.
But perhaps the Bulls have got this wrong. While finals rugby demands a more tactical approach, a team still needs to apply the pressure via a well-orchestrated attack. The Bulls may have been better served starting Pollard at 10, as he would have asked more questions of that WP defence.
That said, the Bulls are short on personnel following a series of injuries. Centre Burger Odendaal will not feature in the play-offs, while scrumhalf Piet van Zyl was struggling with his fitness in the buildup to this clash.
The Bulls' strength is up front, and it's at the set pieces and breakdowns where they'll look to attack WP. Deon Stegmann will be a threat at the rucks, with WP not fielding a fetcher of their own.
Catrakilis will hope that the WP pack win the battle at the set pieces and collisions. Forward dominance will allow him to dictate the flow of the game.
Nevertheless, WP still have what it takes to clinch a tight contest. In Catrakilis they have a proven match-winner who is capable of bisecting the uprights in the dying minutes.
LAST FIVE CURRIE CUP MEETINGS
2014: WP won 23-18 (Pretoria)
2014: WP won 41-17 (Cape Town)
2013: WP won 29-18 (Pretoria)
2013: Draw 24-24 (Cape Town)
2012: Blue Bulls won 26-13 (Pretoria)
CATRAKILIS'S CURRIE CUP STATS THAT MATTER
93 – The number of points he's scored in this year's Currie Cup (Rank 3)
72 – The number of times he's kicked from hand (Rank 3)
Source: Vodacom Rugby Stats App
Western Province – 15 Cheslin Kolbe, 14 Kobus van Wyk, 13 Juan de Jongh (c), 12 Michael van der Spuy, 11 Seabelo Senatla, 10 Demetri Catrakilis, 9 Nic Groom, 8 Nizaam Carr, 7 Michael Rhodes, 6 Rynhardt Elstadt, 5 Manuel Carizza, 4 Jean Kleyn, 3 Pat Cilliers, 2 Scarra Ntubeni, 1 Alistair Vermaak.
Subs: 16 Neil Rautenbach, 17 Oli Kebble, 18 Brok Harris, 19 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 20 Louis Schreuder, 21 Kurt Coleman, 22 EW Viljoen.
Blue Bulls – 15 Ulrich Beyers, 14 Akona Ndungane, 13 William Small-Smith, 12 Handré Pollard, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Jacques-Louis Potgieter, 9 Rudy Paige, 8 Jono Ross, 7 Jacques du Plessis, 6 Deon Stegmann (c), 5 Grant Hattingh, 4 Paul Willemse, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Dean Greyling.
Subs: 16 Callie Visagie, 17 Marcel van der Merwe 18 Nicolaas Janse van Rensburg, 19 Wiaan Liebenberg, 20 Piet van Zyl, 21 Sampie Mastriet, 22 Jesse Kriel.
Photo: Gerhard Steenkamp/BackpagePix