Demetri Catrakilis will be the difference between the Stormers winning and losing the qualifying play-off against the Brumbies on Saturday, writes JON CARDINELLI.
Catrakilis is never going to be Dan Carter. He is never going to ignite a backline or keep opposition defenders guessing with his attacking play.
That said, Catrakilis understands his limitations, as well as his strengths. Fortunately for the Stormers, it is the latter that are best suited to the play-offs. Good game management, as well as excellent line- and goal-kicking skills, is what you want in a flyhalf at the do-or-die stages of the tournament.
This match is going to be closely contested, regardless of the travel factor. The Brumbies are coming off a draining loss to the Crusaders. Their energy has been sapped through a taxing journey from Christchurch to Cape Town. And yet, there is a good reason for the visitors to raise their game and believe an upset is within their grasp.
The big news this week is that Stormers captain and No 8 Duane Vermeulen will not be available for the play-off at Newlands. Over the course of the season, Vermeulen has led the physical charge at the gainline. His expertise at the breakdown also lent the Stormers an edge. Without Vermeulen in tow, the Stormers' chances of winning are decreased significantly.
Nizaam Carr will stand in for Vermeulen at No 8. It is not a like-for-like replacement, and not a selection that's suited for a battle in the trenches. Siya Kolisi has been identified as the man to shoulder Vermeulen's fetching responsibilities. But again, it is not a like-for-like replacement.
The Stormers need a world-class player operating in that position if they're going to win the crucial contest at the breakdown. They need somebody who can counter Brumbies openside flank David Pocock, who has been in terrific form of late.
The Brumbies will look to niggle at the Stormers and upset their rhythm. This tactic worked to some degree in the league fixture between these two sides six weeks ago.
As much as the Stormers will miss Vermeulen as a player, they may miss him more as a leader. The senior players will certainly have their work cut out for them this Saturday, as the Brumbies, especially scrumhalf Nic White, are going to push the hosts to the brink.
Much has been made about the referee's reaction to the predicted melee. Jaco Peyper is likely to take a hard line early on, and if the Brumbies fail to adapt to Peyper's management style, they should be punished. This is where the Stormers will have an opportunity to score points and build momentum.
Catrakilis has been the Stormers' go-to man all-season. He boasts the best goal-kicking success rate (89%) in this year's competition. If he can continue that incredible run in front of goal, the Stormers can win this game and advance to a semi-final against the Waratahs in Sydney.
He's done it before for Western Province in the 2012 and 2014 Currie Cup finals. But this is a bigger game. Super Rugby involves international opposition and the overall standard of play is far higher. Can Catrakilis hold his nerve?
The same should be asked of the Stormers collective. The franchise has been involved in six Super Rugby play-offs, and has won only one. They've lost three out of four knockout games at Newlands. They will go into the coming game as favourites, but the pressure to live up to that mantle will be immense.
If Catrakilis is on song with the boot, then the Stormers should win. But if Catrakilis goes down with an injury early on, as he did in the league game against the Lions two weeks ago, then the hosts will be in trouble.
Just as the Stormers have no like-for-like replacement for Vermeulen, they lack a reserve goal-kicker with the composure and accuracy of Catrakilis. Losing Vermeulen has already dented their chances of winning. Losing Catrakilis on Saturday would further hamper their cause.
HEAD TO HEAD
Overall: Brumbies 11, Stormers 6, Draw 1
In Cape Town: Stormers 5, Brumbies 4, Draw 1
STATS AND FACTS
– The Stormers have won seven of their last eight matches when hosting Australian sides.
– The Stormers have won three of their last four matches against the Brumbies.
– The Brumbies have won two out of two in the qualifiers and this is the third year in a row they have played in this stage.
– The Stormers have lost five of their six games when reaching the post-season stage, however this will be their first appearance in the qualifiers.
– The Brumbies conceded fewer tries than any other team this season, conceding just 10 first-half tries and 11 in the second 40.
– The Stormers conceded the joint-second fewest second-half tries in the regular season (14).
– The Brumbies have scored 34 tries after winning their own lineout, 12 more than the next best team.
– In the round 13 meeting between these sides, the Stormers recorded their lowest tallies for metres gained (268) and clean breaks (one), while the Brumbies beat just nine defenders, their fewest in a match this season.
|Team||Top point-scorer||Top try-scorer||Most metres gained||Most tackles|
|Stormers||Demetri Catrakilis (156)||Dillyn Leyds (6)||Cheslin Kolbe (1057)||Nizaam Carr (125)|
|Brumbies||Christian Lealiifano (155)||David Pocock (8)||Joe Tomane (712)||Christian Lealiifano (128)|
Stormers – 15 Cheslin Kolbe, 14 Dillyn Leyds, 13 Juan de Jongh (c), 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Seabelo Senatla, 10 Demetri Catrakilis, 9 Nic Groom, 8 Nizaam Carr, 7 Siya Kolisi, 6 Schalk Burger, 5 Manuel Carizza, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Subs: 16 Scara Ntubeni, 17 Ali Vermaak, 18 Vincent Koch, 19 Jean Kleyn, 20 Michael Rhodes, 21 Louis Schreuder, 22 Kurt Coleman, 23 Jaco Taute.
Brumbies – 15 Jesse Mogg, 14 Henry Speight, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Robbie Coleman, 11 Joe Tomane, 10 Christian Lealiifano, 9 Nic White, 8 Ita Vaea, 7 David Pocock, 6 Scott Fardy, 5 Blake Enever, 4 Rory Arnold, 3 Ben Alexander, 2 Stephen Moore (c), 1 Scott Sio.
Subs: 16 Josh Mann-Rea, 17 Allan Alaalatoa, 18 Ruan Smith, 19 Jordan Smiler, 20 Jarrad Butler, 21 Michael Dowsett, 22 Matt Toomua, 23 James Dargaville.
Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Craig Joubert (South Africa), Jason Jaftha (South Africa)
Television match official: Deon van Blommestein (South Africa)
Photo: Carl Fourie/Gallo Images