The form of Lukhanyo Am and Jesse Kriel has served as much-needed rays of light at the start of the Vodacom Super Rugby season, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
After seven rounds of action, we have arrived at a point where it is possible to start making some deductions about the form of teams and players in this all-important World Cup year. Unfortunately, there hasn’t been all that much on show to get South African fans jumping off their couches and declare a renewed interest in Super Rugby.
The Lions and Vodacom Bulls have won four games out of six, but to suggest that they really seem like legitimate title contenders would be to tempt a backlash on April Fool’s Day, while the Sharks and Stormers have been disappointingly inconsistent.
Although there have been some bright sparks here and there, what will be of real concern is that there have been very few Bok backs who are stealing the headlines week after week.
Last season’s stars, such as Aphiwe Dyantyi and S’bu Nkosi, haven’t quite hit the ground running, both as a result of injuries and some indifferent form, while Springbok and Stormers stalwart Damian de Allende continues to frustrate with soft moments.
Young stars such as Damian Willemse and Curwin Bosch have predominantly found themselves playing off the bench at the start of the season, and there still is no local scrumhalf shooting out the lights.
But enough of the negativity. Handré Pollard and Elton Jantjies have certainly had their moments this season, and then we come to Am and Kriel, who have been the real movers and shakers in 2019.
These two players, who will be battling it out for the Bok No 13 jersey, went head to head in Saturday’s derby between the Sharks and Bulls, and there was very little that separated them.
Am ultimately walked away with the Man of the Match award, having made eight carries, 29m and seven tackles, while beating three defenders and regularly popping up as a dynamic playmaker.
Kriel has often been a player who receives his fair portion of criticism, but he has been in classy form this season. On Saturday he finished off a fourth try of the season, while racking up 49m from six carries, beating two defenders, and completing 10 tackles.
Make no mistake, these are two players who will have Rassie Erasmus smiling. After an unfortunate injury curtailed Am’s 2018 season, he has demonstrated that he is a player with street smarts.
Each time Am receives the ball, it just looks as if he is a couple of steps ahead of the rest with his ability to read the game and spot space, making him one of those rare breeds of outside backs who just have a natural influence on proceedings.
Kriel has also come a long way. Sometimes accused of crabbing across the field with ball in hand, this season he has made a real impact with his direct running and superb support play.
The 25-year-old currently finds himself at the top of most of the Bulls’ individual stats, and looks to be playing with the sort of infectious freedom and confidence that bodes well for Springbok squad competition.
Fitness permitting, both players are virtual certainties to head to the World Cup later this year, and on current form, there isn’t much to choose between the two players. At a time when other Springbok backs really need to up their game in Super Rugby, that is at least some cause for real encouragement.
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