PORT ELIZABETH, South Africa — Flank Luke Watson and fly-half Demetri Catrakilis starred as Southern Kings put a three-week Super 15 nightmare behind them by defeating Otago Highlanders 34-27 Saturday.
Injury-prone Watson was given back the captaincy of the southern hemisphere rookies and scored two pushover tries during the first half at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in Indian Ocean city Port Elizabeth.
Catrakilis became the first South African in seven years to top 100 points in his debut Super Rugby season as he reached 107 thanks to four conversions and two penalty goals from seven shots at goal.
Victory was especially sweet after Kings conceded 18 tries in heavy losses against fellow South African sides Northern Bulls and Central Cheetahs and New South Wales Waratahs from Australia.
It was also their first success against New Zealand opposition after losses to title holders Waikato Chiefs, record seven-time champions Canterbury Crusaders and Wellington Hurricanes.
The bonus-point victory over bottom-place Highlanders lifted them above Western Force of Australia to 13th on the combined standings with five games to play.
Kings were also the only South African winners at the weekend with Cheetahs losing at home to Hurricanes and Coastal Sharks and Western Stormers failing away against Australian sides Queensland Reds and Waratahs respectively.
Highlanders, who were visibly furious at some decisions of South African referee Jason Jaftha, pressed hard at the end to try and snatch a draw, but had to settle for two bonus points.
“We showed character and courage to bounce back after the performances of the past three weeks. We took some risks — we had no choice,” admitted former Springbok Watson.
“That was a pretty frustrating match for us as we conceded far too many penalties. It does not get any easier next weekend with a visit to the Bulls,” conceded Highlanders hooker and skipper Andrew Hore.
A disappointment for the men from New Zealand south island city Dunedin was the place kicking of fly-half Colin Slade, who finished with only a 50 percent success rate from six shots at goal.
A seesaw first half ended with Kings 20-17 ahead and they went 17 points clear through two converted tries before relentless late Highlanders pressure yielded a couple of unconverted tries.
Watson (two), No 8 Cornell du Preez and scrum-half Shaun Venter scored tries for Kings with the rest of the points coming from the right boot of former Western Province Currie Cup playmaker Catrakilis.
Slade, lock Brad Thorn, centre Shaun Treeby and left wing Hosea Gear were the try scorers for Highlanders, who had centre Tamati Ellison sin binned during the second half, and Slade slotted two conversions and a penalty.
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