His surname might be tough to spell and nigh impossible to pronounce for some, but there is no doubting the impact that new Ikey Tigers flyhalf Demetri Catrakilis has had on FNB UCT’s 2011 Varsity Cup campaign.
At the same time, however, UCT have got all that and more in the shape of this former Lions Under-19 player.
You see, the UCT coaching staff had hoped for a dependable goalkicker with good game management skills and a strong defensive game – but, based on his first three appearances for the Ikeys, they now possess the most all-round No.10 in the competition.
“I had a great time at False Bay last season and it’s a wonderful club, but they couldn’t offer what UCT could – the Varsity Cup,” Catrakilis – the tournament’s leading points-scorer with 51 points – tells varsitycup.co.za.
“That said, even with all my expectations of the Varsity Cup, and (of) joining UCT, I’ve just been blown away by everything – the vibe at UCT, the closeness of the squad, and, of course, the Varsity Cup itself.”
His current success aside, it’s been a long road to UCT for Catrakilis, whose parents hail from Greece and Cyprus.
He was born and raised in Johannesburg – where he matriculated from St John’s College (playing two years of Academy Week rugby for the Lions) – and he spent his first year out of school playing U19 rugby for the Lions.
A short stint at Racing Metro – the Paris-based club where Springbok Frans Steyn now plays – followed, before he made a name for himself in Cape Town in 2010 with a strong performance for False Bay in the Western Province Super League.
“It was quite an experience,” says Demetri when asked about his three-month stint in France. “I loved the rugby, but it was quite tough settling in with the language barrier.
“I played in the Under-21 and Under-23 teams (at Racing), but we were lucky enough to train with the senior squad on a daily basis,” he adds.
“It was quite an eye-opener training with [former All Blacks flyhalf] Andrew Mehrtens and he certainly taught me a trick or two – especially from a goalkicking point of view.”
Six conversions and 13 penalties tell just half the story of Catrakilis’s impact at the University of Cape Town this year, but he remains modest when asked about his bright start to the 2011 FNB Varsity Cup presented by Steinhoff International.
“I’m just trying to enjoy myself,” he says, underplaying his all-round impact on the Ikeys gameplan, “and I know that when I’m enjoying myself I tend to play my best rugby.
“At the same time it’s been really easy for me to fit into this UCT side,” adds Catrakilis. “I’ve always been a huge fan of UCT’s style of rugby – which favours attack – and it’s suited my style of play.”
Whilst attempting to take bits and pieces from the likes of Test greats Jonny Wilkinson (“his goalkicking and defence”) and Dan Carter (“his attacking play”), Catrakilis would prefer to play his “own mode of rugby at No.10”.
However, he is quick to point out just how big an impact his new teammates at UCT have had on his game, saying: “Nic Groom [scrumhalf] and Adrian Kritzinger [inside centre] are both going places and I’m just lucky to have had them on either side of me (so far).
“I’m constantly amazed at Kritz’s class in the inside centre channel – it’s an honour play alongside guys like Groomie and Kritz; not to mention everyone else across the board.”
Catrakilis admits that he would like to enter the professional rugby ranks at some point in the not-too-distant future – “the next year or two are going to be crucial” – but, for now, it’s all about bringing back that elusive Varsity Cup trophy to UCT.
“Right now our biggest opponents are TUT – who we’re playing against on Monday,” he says.
“I know it makes us all sound very clichéd at UCT, but we only focus on our next match.
“Once the TUT game is over we can look at the Maties… and then UJ… and so on, but our only focus, as members of the Ikey Tigers Varsity Cup squad, is to win the 2011 Varsity Cup and that continues when we come up against TUT (on Monday).”
FIVE SECONDS WITH DEMETRI CATRAKILIS:
(1) Can you compare life in Johannesburg to life in Cape Town?
“I’ve only been here for a year and a bit… but the pace of life is certainly a bit slower here – which, I think, suits me more.”
(2) What do you do in your spare time?
“I love listening to music – mostly hip-hop and R&B. I also enjoy catching a movie with my girlfriend and I love eating. I also did a bit of rugby coaching at Rondebosch Boys’ High School last season – hopefully they’ll want me back this year!”
(3) What kind of food do you like?
“I love meat and fruit… But I’d have to say that Greek food is tops.” (Was there ever any doubt? – ed.)
(4) You mentioned that you have a girlfriend. How much pressure is there on you to win those pink roses as the Player that Rocks?
“I don’t want to get myself into any trouble here… but let’s just say that I’ve been doing my best to win those roses!”
(5) How did you enjoy your first taste of UCT rugby on the Green Mile?
“Put it this way – I’ve experienced playing for False Bay at UCT before… so Monday night was a totally different experience – in a good way, of course – for me! It was an absolute privilege playing my first home game (on Monday) and I only hope there’s plenty more to come.”
By Howard Kahn