JON CARDINELLI reports on WP’s 29-22 win against Free State in Bloemfontein.
Two instances of brilliance and a flawless goal-kicking performance earned Western Province what could be a crucial win in the context of their season.
The match was framed by moments of vision and sublime finishing, Gio Aplon supplying the opening salvo and Marcel Brache contributing the score that would put the result beyond doubt.
Aplon’s try took the visitors to a 7-0 lead in just the second minute. Brache did exceptionally well to get his hands through the tackle and find Aplon, who subsequently chipped the ball over the advancing defenders. The WP fullback was always going to win the race and with a favourable bounce, the Cape side were off to the best possible start.
But Free State stayed in touch via the impressive goal-kicking of wing Nico Scheepers. The youngster kicked five goals in the first half, and this allowed the hosts to go to the break with a 19-13 advantage.
But just as Scheepers showed considerable mettle in front of goal, so too did Catrakilis. The WP flyhalf converted every opportunity in the first half, when it seemed the Cheetahs had the initiative, and three quick penalties in succession after the break saw the momentum shifting back in the visitors’ favour.
Scheepers managed to bisect the uprights to bring the scores level at 22-22, but that’s when Catrakilis showed why he is more than just a goal-kicker.
The WP flyhalf spotted the space behind the Cheetahs defence, and chipped for Brache to chase. The timing of Catrakilis’s kick, as well as that of Brache’s run, allowed Province to score a seven-pointer. It was a timely strike, as the Cheetahs had already begun to flag at that point in contest.
This score also seemed to have an adverse effect on the Cheetahs goal-kicker. Scheepers missed his first shot on goal in the 73rd minute. It meant that all that Free State could play for in those final minutes was a draw.
WP looked to have secured territory during this decisive period, that is until a set-piece turnover sparked a dangerous Cheetahs counter-attack.
Some desperate WP defence would deny the Cheetahs in the final move, and ensure the Cape side walked away from this encounter with four valuable log points.