Jaco Kriel is determined to inject ‘pace and energy’ into the Springboks’ game should he come off the bench in Saturday’s third Test against Ireland, writes CRAIG LEWIS in Port Elizabeth.
Warren Whiteley’s elevation to the starting lineup to replace the injured Duane Vermeulen has opened up a spot for Kriel to deservedly earn inclusion in the match 23, with the Lions flanker set to add another danger factor to the Boks’ bench.
Over the past two seasons Kriel has consistently impressed with his dynamism and ball-running ability that has seen him establish himself as an archetypal modern-day flanker. He boasts a number of attributes that have set him apart in the South African loose forward department.
Although Kriel was unfortunate to miss out on World Cup selection last year, he made a massive impact for the Lions during their unbeaten run to the Currie Cup title, while he was also named the 2015 SA Players’ Player of the Year.
Since earning inclusion in the Bok squad after another impressive Super Rugby season in 2016, Kriel has had to watch from the sidelines during the first two Tests, although the 26-year-old will now finally receive his opportunity to make his debut.
‘I think that waiting is all worth it if it comes off in the end, and I’ve always believed that hard work will pay off,’ he reflected after the Bok team announcement on Thursday. ‘At the Lions we’ve always spoken about having that patience, but it’s not always easy with the media and public expectation. It’s been an interesting journey to get to this point, but now if I get my chance, I have to take it.’
Last Saturday, the Bok bench made a massive difference in a second-half performance that saw the hosts overturn a 19-3 and then 26-10 deficit to ultimately emerge victorious. Kriel suggested a benchmark had been set.
‘I don’t think I could have learned a bigger lesson from last weekend than to see the impact that the bench provided in the second half. It was such an example of how to contribute and what the replacements can do to energise the team and provide that go-forward. So, I’ll aim to empty the tank and inject pace and energy wherever I can, but it’s also all about using that at the right times and in the right places.
‘Having been part of [Bok] squads previously, I’ve seen the value of learning from the senior players,’ he added. ‘I think it’s important that I now showcase what I’ve learned and built up with my experiences in Super Rugby. There’s no place to hide now, the spotlight will be on me out there, with thousands of people watching, so I have to deliver.’
Bok coach Allister Coetzee said he was really looking forward to see what Kriel could offer on Saturday.
‘He’s a very exciting and explosive player, who is also a bit like an openside flank and blindside flank all in one. We will benefit from his pace, impact and work rate across the field. He doesn’t have to do anything differently, he’s got the freedom to play within our structures and I’m sure it’s a Test opportunity he’ll relish.’
For Kriel, after all, just wearing the green and gold is the realisation of a dream that first took shape more than 20 years ago.
‘Since watching the 1995 World Cup final, and jumping up and down to celebrate the Springboks’ victory as a small boy, the dream was always just to wear green and gold one day,’ he recalled. ‘My family always told me I’d be a Springbok one day, and it’s something I’ve always chased. So really, any scenario with me in a Bok jersey would represent a perfect picture.’
Photo: Sydney Seshibedi/Gallo Images