Cape Town - The battle between the Kings' Demetri Catrakilis
and his Lions flyhalf counterpart Elton Jantjies
could determine the outcome in the two-leg Super Rugby promotion-relegation playoff matches, but the two could not have had more contrasting seasons this year.
It seems more than a little ironic that Jantjies and Catrakilis face each other in probably the two most important Super Rugby matches of the year in a South African context, because Jantjies' move to the Stormers for the Super Rugby season was seen by most to be the catalyst for Catrakilis' departure to the Kings.
Despite winning the Currie Cup final with Western Province last year, Catrakilis fell behind in the pecking order for a starting berth at the Stormers with the arrival of Jantjies on loan from the Lions, the return of Peter Grant
from Japan, and the likes of Gary van Aswegen in the squad.
He opted instead to play for the Kings in Port Elizabeth, where he was given guarantees that he would be the first-choice No 10, in order to get Super Rugby game-time and boost his chances of playing for the Springboks, a bold decision that has appears to have paid off for the pivot.
At the Kings, Catrakilis received positive reviews, which culminated in his call-up
to the Springbok training camp earlier this year (although he was called up for duty for the Springboks he did not manage to make the final squad for the Incoming Series).
Despite the Kings finishing last on the Super Rugby table, Catrakilis finished as the ninth-highest points scorer in the Super Rugby competition, with 142 points from 14 matches, with 51 successful kicks at goal from 61 attempts (84% success ratio) averaging 10.04 points per match.
In another ironic twist, Catrakilis future will be decided
by the result of the promotion-relegation playoff, as the relegation of the Kings will see him return to the Stormers as part of his contract with the Kings.
By contrast, Jantjies started off the season by missing four penalties in a closely contested 25-17 loss to the Bulls
in the Stormers' opening match at Loftus Versfeld, and was subsequently relieved of the kicking duties and replaced by Stormers fullback Joe Pietersen
Jantjies registered four successful attempts at goal from eight kicks at the Stormers (50% success ratio) this year.
Some have blamed Jantjies for the Stormers' poor season, but the truth is that the player has seemed short of confidence since the tragic passing of his father
Thomas Jantjies, who died after he was stung by a bee earlier this year, and the Stormers style of play did not suit
By the end of the season, Jantjies had fallen out of favour with the Newlands faithful, and it was reported that the Stormers had opted to end their association with him
, although they chose to retain his former Lions team-mate Jaco Taute.
Despite a poor season, Lions coach Johan Ackermann has chosen to start Jantjies at flyhalf against the Kings, instead of Marnitz Boshoff who has been the Lions regular flyhalf for most of the season, in a bold move given the importance of the game.
Admittedly, the Lions' attacking style of play will undoubtedly suit Jantjies' more than the defence-orientated game favoured by the Stormers.
Whatever the result of the two matches between the Lions and the Kings, the stakes could not be higher, as failure to earn promotion to Super Rugby next year would have disastrous financial implications for both teams.
What is certain, though is that the two players will have a vital role to play in determining the outcome of the contest.
The Lions will play the first of the two promotion-relegation matches
against the Kings at the Nelson Mandela
Stadium on Friday, July 26
(kick-off at 19:10), followed by the return leg at Ellis Park on
Saturday, August 3 (kick-off TBD, depending on whether the Bulls advance
to the Super Rugby final or not).
15. SP Marais, 11. Marcello Sampson, 13. Ronnie Cooke, 12. Shane Gates, 14. Hadleigh Parkes, 10. Demetri Catrakilis
, 9. Shaun Venter, 8. Jacques Engelbrecht
, 7. Wimpie van der Walt, 6. Cornell du Preez, 5. David Bulbring, 4. Darron Nell (captain), 3. Kevin Buys, 2. Bandise Maku
, 1. Schalk Ferreira
Substitutes: 16. Charl du Plessis, 17. Hannes Franklin, 18. Steven Sykes, 19. Devin Oosthuizen, 20. Nicolas Vergallo, 21. George Whitehead, 22. Waylon MurrayLions:
15. Ruan Combrinck, 14. Deon van Rensburg, 13. Stokkies Hanekom, 12. Dylan des Fountain, 11. Anthony Volmink, 10. Elton Jantjies
, 9. Michael Bondesio, 8. Warren Whiteley, 7. Derrick Minnie, 6. Jaco Kriel, 5. Franco van der Merwe, 4. Hendrik Roodt, 3. Julian Redelinghuys, 2. Martin Bezuidenhout, 1. JC Janse van Rensburg
Substitutes: Robbie Coetzee, Ruan Dreyer, Willie Britz, Warwick Tecklenburg, Ross Cronje, Marnitz Boshoff, Chrysander Botha