Kriel: Best 20 minutes of my life

Jaco Kriel aims to specialise as a fetcher in order to add long-term value to the Springbok setup, writes CRAIG LEWIS in Port Elizabeth.

In the week leading up to Saturday’s final Test against Ireland, coach Allister Coetzee said he felt Kriel had the attributes to fulfil a role as either an openside or blindside flank, with the 26-year-old boasting both ball-running and breakdown abilities.

Despite not featuring in the match 23 for the first two Tests, Kriel finally earned his first Bok cap when he came off the bench to replace Siya Kolisi in the 60th minute in Port Elizabeth on Saturday. During a 20-minute cameo, Kriel made five tackles and executed one vital turnover as the Springboks held on for a series victory.

After the clash, the passionate loose forward said his debut had passed by in a blur, but that it had been the ‘best 20 minutes’ of his life.

‘When we were chatting in the change room afterwards and I tried to think back about the game, I could hardly remember anything, and I just realised then how quickly it flies by. But it was such an experience to fight it out like that alongside my brothers, and I think we showed real character to defend as we did at the end.’

Kriel will now return to the Lions, where he will be looking to continue honing his skills ahead of the Rugby Championship, which kicks off in August.

He admitted his focus would be on fine-tuning his ability to proficiently play to the ball at the breakdown.

‘I’ve been in constant communication with Allister [Coetzee], and he said right from the start that he was going to go with Flo [Francois Louw] at No 6 and I’ve always understood that. But on a personal level, I do feel I need to specialise more as a fetcher. I think my running ability and support play is up to speed at this point, but really, whatever the team needs I’ll try to provide.’

Kriel said his first taste of Bok rugby had really given him a hunger for more, but he acknowledged that he would need to start from square one once again.

‘Going back to the Lions now, the hard work starts again, and you expect sides to target you. I know that I need to maintain my levels of performances, but for me, those 20 minutes [playing for the Boks] were the best 20 minutes of my life.

‘The message before I came on was just to focus on ensuring good discipline and avoiding silly errors, and although there weren’t many opportunities to run, I knew there was a big job to do defensively, and I’m really proud of the way we managed to pull it off.’

Kriel added that he felt the Bok group had drawn closer together in the face of immense pressure that followed the opening Test defeat at Newlands.

‘The biggest lesson I’ve learned is that people can write you off and pass plenty of criticism, but you have to stick together as a group and know that things will change and swing back in your favour. And that’s exactly what happened in the end.’

Photo: Gavin Barker/BackpagePix

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Craig Lewis