Jesse Kriel has credited assistant coach Mzwandile Stick for helping the Springboks’ outside backs improve their aerial skills as he prepares to start on the wing against Wales in Cardiff on Saturday. DYLAN JACK reports.
In one of four changes to the team that beat the All Blacks in the Rugby Championship, Kriel will start on the right wing for just the third time in his Test career.
The 27-year-old, who will earn his 49th cap on Saturday, replaces the unavailable Sbu Nkosi in a somewhat surprise selection, given that Aphelele Fassi was the fan favourite to start in Cardiff.
Kriel started his career at fullback, but has mostly been utilised in midfield since. While his first Test start on the wing was in a 37-25 loss to Argentina in 2015, his second was in the far more memorable victory over the All Blacks in Wellington in 2018.
Speaking during a media conference on Wednesday, Kriel explained that his preparation for Saturday’s Test has not been all that different and paid tribute to the work done by assistant coach Stick in helping the backs improve their aerial skills.
“Our preparations don’t change much as outside backs. Most of the backs in our team are able to play various positions, so we have a great focus on aerial skills,” Kriel said.
“Mzwandile Stick has been doing a great job with all of us outside backs right throughout our campaign since way before the World Cup on our aerial skills and things like that. It’s something that we work hard at every single day.
“I am pretty comfortable playing wherever. Obviously, I enjoy my rugby at centre, but I love it just as much on the wing. I just want to do what’s best for the team and to be able to deliver and just be on the field. I am just happy for the opportunity on Saturday.”
Damian Willemse and Herschel Jantjies have also earned rare starts at fullback and scrumhalf, respectively, and Kriel is keen to play alongside both exciting youngsters in the Test.
“I am confident in every single player in this team. We have got an unbelievable squad. The guys work really hard and are all highly capable.
“Damian Willemse is a special player. We all know what he can do. Herschel Jantjies as well, a really special player. They have got unbelievable skill sets and they are raring at the bit to get out there on Saturday and show what they can do, how talented they are and what they can contribute to the Springboks.
“It’s really exciting. It’s nice for guys to get a start. A lot of guys have obviously been coming off the bench, so it’s nice for guys to get a different role this weekend and show how they can contribute to the team.”
While Saturday may be only his third Test on the wing, and maybe pitting him against British & Irish Lion Josh Adams, Kriel says he is not lacking in confidence going into the match.
“Confidence is something that we build throughout training every day. I don’t get my confidence from previous experiences, I get it from training well and perfect practice every day. Coach Stick works really, really hard with us outside backs to build that confidence through the week.
“I am pretty confident going into the game. Starting my career off at fullback is something that you could look at, but my confidence definitely comes from my preparation and how we go about doing things in the team.”
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