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Preview: Kings v Cheetahs

24th May 2013 12:37

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Demetri Catrakilis Kings v Rebels 2013

A leading light: Demetri Catrakilis

The Cheetahs and the Kings were the two teams picked to fight it out to avoid the relegation play-off in the South African conference, with the Kings seemingly condemned to the wooden spoon, but instead they have been the surprise packages.

It perhaps shouldn't come as too much of as a shock that the Cheetahs have upped their game, as while the results haven't always gone their way, they have been there or thereabouts for the past few seasons. In both 2011 and 2012 they lost 11 of their 18 matches, with seven of those losses by seven points or less - this year they have turned some of those close results into victories.

The Cheetahs have always shown a desire to throw the ball around and with Willie le Roux popping up all over, they've excelled in this department even though they haven't had Johan Goosen running the show from fly-half.

It's the loose forwards that have really impressed though. The ever-reliable but criminally ignored Heinrich Brussow has been joined by Philip van der Walt and Lappies Labuschagne in forming a back-row that has wrecked havoc both in the tight and the loose.

This department will be an interesting battleground come Saturday, with the Kings also boasting two new stars in Cornell du Preez and Jacques Engelbrecht (who starts from the bench after returning from injury) and skipper Luke Watson, who after a host of underwhelming displays at last came to the fore last time out against the Highlanders.

One man who has always stood head and shoulders above the rest is fly-half Demetri Catrakilis. Allowed to move on by Western Province, the pivot has thrived in a starting role, growing more and more into Super Rugby.

Catrakilis will need to have a firm grip on proceedings if the Kings are to beat the Cheetahs, with his opposite number, Elgar Watts, making just his second Super Rugby start.

The Kings rode a wave of euphoria during and after their tour Down Under and while this was ended by a hammering at the hands of the Waratahs, they bounced back to beat the Highlanders. A number of the men from Otago were quick to credit the crowd at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium for creating a hostile environment but whether the Cheetahs are fazed by this remains to be seen.

The Cheetahs will be looking to get out the blocks quickly - as they did against the Reds - as the Kings will be up for a battle and putting them on the back foot early could be the best way to halt their charge.

When the two teams met earlier in the year it was only ill-discipline that kept the Kings in the contest as the Cheetahs dominated proceedings but were denied a four-try bonus point in their 26-12 victory by some titanic defence. Naka Drotske's men are sure to face more of the same defending in Port Elizabeth and with a bit more offensive guile too.

Prediction: The Cheetahs are looking a strong side but the Kings have proven a tough team to keep down. It's going to be a mammoth battle but the Cheetahs to take it by 5-10 points!

The teams:

Southern Kings: 15 SP Marais, 14 Siyanda Grey, 13 Ronnie Cooke, 12 Andries Strauss, 11 Marcello Sampson, 10 Demetri Catrakilis, 9 Shaun Venter, 8 Cornell du Preez, 7 Luke Watson (captain), 6 Wimpie van der Walt, 5 David Bulbring, 4 Steve Sykes, 3 Kevin Buys, 2 Bandise Maku, 1 Schalk Ferreira
Replacements: 16 Virgile Lacombe, 17 Grant Kemp, 18 Rynier Bernado, 19 Jacques Engelbrecht, 20 Nicolas Vergallo, 21 Shane Gates, 22 George Whitehead.

Cheetahs: 15 Hennie Daniller, 14 Ryno Benjamin, 13 Johann Sadie, 12 Robert Ebersohn, 11 Willie le Roux, 10 Elgar Watts, 9 Piet van Zyl, 8 Philip van der Walt, 7 Lappies Labuschagne, 6 Heinrich Brussow, 5 Francois Uys, 4 Lood de Jager, 3 Lourens Adriaanse, 2 Adriaan Strauss (c), 1 Coenie Oosthuizen.
Replacements: 16 Ryno Barnes, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 Ligtoring Landman, 19 Boom Prinsloo, 20 Sarel Pretorius, 21 Riaan Smit, 22 Raymond Rhule.

Date: Saturday, May 25
Venue: Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, Port Elizabeth
Kick-off: 15.00 (13.00 GMT)
Referee: Stuart Berry (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Sindile Mayende (South Africa), Christie du Preez (South Africa)
TMO:Johann Meuwessen (South Africa)