Jaco Kriel is set to make his long-awaited Springbok debut in Saturday’s third Test against Ireland. CRAIG LEWIS reports from Port Elizabeth.
Kriel was one of the big winners at the 2015 SA Rugby Player of the Year Awards, walking away with the prestigious Players’ Player of the Year accolade, while he was also named the Currie Cup Player of the Year after leading the Lions to the domestic title.
The dynamic loose forward has once again been outstanding for the Lions in Super Rugby this season, and while Blitzboks coach Neil Powell identified Kriel as a player who could potentially add value to the Springbok Sevens Olympic squad, he ultimately retained his focus on 15s.
The reward is now set to come in the form of Kriel’s inclusion in the Bok match 23 for Saturday’s clash against Ireland. An injury to No 8 Duane Vermeulen is expected to see Warren Whiteley promoted to the starting lineup, while opening up a spot on the bench for Kriel.
‘Jaco has been really patient and delivering great performances for the Lions season after season, so he deserves his opportunity and I really hope that he can inject himself into the game in the same manner the bench did last weekend,’ Bok assistant coach Matt Proudfoot commented. ‘If we can create a bit of space and really put the foot on the accelerator in the second half if we’re in that situation, then I think he’ll be really effective.’
However, Proudfoot also insisted that Kriel should not be regarded as solely the sort of player who can make an impression off the bench.
‘I think he can also do a job from the start. I don’t think he’s the type of player who is only an impact player, no, no, no. He’s really robust and tough.’
Proudfoot also passionately dispelled any talk that openside flank Francois Louw had not quite been up to his best during the first two Tests.
‘I think it’s a myth, I can take you through his breakdown clips. I said to him in our one-on-one chat that I thought it was one of the best performances I’ve seen from a No 6 at the first breakdown [at Ellis Park last Saturday], and every decision he made in our contact situations was superb.
‘I think people look at the game and how much he carries or steals, and judges him only on that, but there are so many different facets to his role. A No 6 is not just a fetcher, he controls a lot of contact situations, makes lots of tackles and has to make good decisions. Go look at the New Zealand players in that position; they don’t just fetch, when their wings are looking to chuck the ball inside that’s where you want your openside flanker to be, and that’s also their role.’
Last Saturday, the Boks were able to add a different dynamic to their forward pack in the second half by shifting Pieter-Steph du Toit to blindside flank when Franco Mostert came into the second row off the bench.
Proudfoot said this was a highly effective option to have available when required.
‘We knew we needed to bring an extra ball-carrier into proceedings against Ireland in the second half, and Pieter-Steph enabled us to have that while still retaining that robustness with Franco in the second row.
‘You can see the way Tests are won now, it’s really a slog in the first half, it’s all about who makes the least errors, who controls territory, and then you start building into the game. So, it’s great to have that flexibility of Pieter-Steph, he’s a real asset to us.’
In the Ireland camp, South African-born flank CJ Stander will be available for selection again after serving his one-match ban, and Proudfoot reiterated the importance of controlling the contact situations this Saturday.
‘I think the big challenge for us is that CJ will be back for them, he’s a big ball-carrier. So it will be about the attrition battle and controlling their loose forwards, who were really good in the contact situation. CJ has been superb for them in that regard, so it’s going to be a war out there on Saturday.’
Photo: Sydney Seshibedi/Gallo Images