Flyhalf Demetri Catrakilis enabled the Southern Kings to cross yet another notable barrier as they snatched a dramatic 30-27 win over the Rebels in Melbourne that is sure to be long remembered in their home city of Port Elizabeth.
In a sense it was a case of lightning striking in the same place twice for the Kings. Last week it was a Catrakilis conversion of a Cornell du Preez try that enabled them to secure a stunning draw in Canberra, and this week it was a Catrakilis drop-goal that gave them their first ever win on foreign soil and ensured that the Rebels remain winless against South African opposition.
Considering that not many gave them a chance of winning any games, boasting two wins and a draw after seven games, and returning home from tour with a record that reads played four, won one, drawn one and lost two is something for the Kings to crow about as they look forward to a big home game against the Vodacom Bulls in Port Elizabeth next weekend.
It was again a triumph of character for the Kings, who were clinical and composed in the early part of the game and managed to take a 14-0 lead after a quarter of an hour with two well-taken tries but then appeared to have butchered it in the two 20 minute periods either side of halftime. Down 27-17 with 27 minutes to go the Kings looked like they were puffing and the four weeks on the road seemed to have finally reeled them in.
But the Kings have finished strongly in most of their games this season, surely a tribute to the fitness work they did in the off-season, and they did so again as they clawed their way back and started to get their hands on the ball. A Catrakilis penalty brought them to within seven points and then in the final quarter it was almost all the Kings as they hammered away deep inside Rebels territory against a side that started to infringe and then almost inevitably had a player yellow carded.
Time and again the Kings eschewed kickable penalties to set up the attacking lineout, time and again it was thwarted, often through Rebels trickery. But with less than five minutes to go they finally got it right, big Wimpie van der Walt being accredited with the touch down as the Kings surged over the line to set up the angled conversion with which Catrakilis, who did miss a kickable penalty earlier, tied up the scores at 27-all.
The Rebels then played a big part in their own downfall by kicking off too long, thus setting up a halfway line scrum which the Kings used as a platform to create the territory advantage that Catrakilis finally exploited as he snapped the drop over from right in front of the posts after the hooter. The Kings went delirious with joy as they mobbed each other on the field, and they had every right to celebrate, for theirs was another notable achievement.
A STREAM OF PENALTIES
In the early minutes it didn’t look like they would have to leave it so late. Although the Rebels enjoyed the early territorial ascendancy, the Kings made try scoring look easy when some perfectly weighted passes and precise drawing of the tackler put fullback George Whitehead into the space that was needed. Ronnie Cooke, playing on the left wing, still had some work to do, but he showed great wing skill for a player who normally plays centre as he weaved in down the touchline to score in the corner.
Catrakilis kicked the conversion from the angle, and added another seven minutes later after scrumhalf Shaun Venter had exploited the confusion in the Rebels' defensive system by scoring off a 30 metre run. At 14-0, it looked like the Kings were on their way to a comfortable victory.
It didn’t work out that way however, with the Kings one again conceding a steady stream of penalties before the tide turned in their favour in the last 20 minutes. The Kings might look at their discipline, but then it also needs to be recognised that they hardly had the ball from the 20th minute to the 60th, and when you’re forced to defend so much of course there is a bigger chance you will concede penalties.
The momentum started to turn the Rebels’ way when the Kings conceded a lineout penalty for a technical infringement. James O’Connor missed the attempt, but the Rebels camped in Kings territory for the next eight minutes and it wasn’t a surprise when finally hooker Jed Robinson forced himself over from close range for the home team’s first try.
The Kings did have an opportunity to bounce straight back when the Rebels spilled the restart, and off the resultant attacking scrum Venter kicked into the corner where the Rebels just got to the ball ahead of the chasing Kings players. From the 22 restart by the Rebels though flank Devin Oosthuizen was then penalised for coming in from the side at a ruck, and O’Connor cut the deficit to four points.
The Rebels were immediately pinged for obstruction, so Catrakilis restored the seven point buffer, only for the Rebels to score their second try to come off a tap penalty – that had been the case with the first – as replacement wing Angus Roberts dotted down in the left corner. That was on the stroke of halftime, so the Rebels would have had the psychological advantage as the teams changed over at 17-all.
The first part of the second half was all the Rebels, with the stats shortly before the hour mark showing that they enjoyed 80% of the possession and a similar advantage in territory. An O’Connor penalty six minutes into the half gave the Rebels the lead for the first time in the match, and with Mitch Inman scoring in the 53rd, they weren’t to relinquish it until Van der Walt’s try more than 20 minutes later.
The Rebels, like the Brumbies the week before, looked dejected at the final whistle, but they can console themselves with the knowledge that they lost to a well-coached team in which every player plays for the jersey and the man standing next to him. Cheeky Watson’s borrowing of the Churchill quote – “We shall never surrender” – certainly seems more apt than laughable after the last two performances. Quite clearly the Kings take those words literally.
Rebels – Tries: Ged Robinson, Angus Roberts, Mitch Inman. Conversions: James O`Connor (3). Penalties: O`Connor (2)
Southern Kings – Tries: Ronnie Cooke, Shaun Venter, Wimpie van der Walt. Conversion: Demetri Catrakilis (3). Drop goal: Catrakilis. Penalties: Catrakilis (2).