Jesse Kriel has given the Vodacom Bulls a greater attacking edge this season and will be a threat against the Lions at Ellis Park on Saturday, writes BRENTON CHELIN.
Kriel was inexplicably overlooked for the Bulls' first match of the season – a 29-17 humbling at the hands of the Stormers. The following week he replaced the ineffectual Jürgen Visser in the Bulls' last line of defence, and has looked at home ever since.
No Bulls player has run more metres, beaten more defenders or had more clean breaks than the 21-year-old fullback this season. He is one of a handful of exciting young players in the Bulls' set-up at the moment, and has shown himself more than capable of making the step up to Super Rugby.
Against the Crusaders, Kriel, along with Burger Odendaal, beat eight defenders as the Bulls laid down a marker to the rest of the South African sides. On Saturday, they'll get the opportunity to build on that victory.
The Lions would've missed that match against the Crusaders as they were travelling back from Australia, after a tour that saw them pick up three wins from four matches. Defensively, they were superb in the victories over the Blues, Rebels and Reds.
However, having been forced to defend for long periods, and heading into their eighth consecutive match, question marks will arise over how much is left in their tank. If the gaps start to open up at Ellis Park, Kriel and co have the ability to punish the Lions' weary legs.
Lions coach Johan Ackermann has made three changes to his side for this one, with Jacques van Rooyen replacing Schalk van der Merwe at loosehead prop and Andries Ferreira starting ahead of Robert Kruger in the second row. Among the backs, Anthony Volminck will make his first start of the season after recovering from a long-term injury.
Meanwhile, the Bulls will be without star flyhalf Handré Pollard, after he was ruled out with a knee concern. His place will be taken by Jacques-Louis Potgieter, who returns to action after spending the last three weeks on the sidelines with a hamstring strain.
Among the forwards, Grant Hattingh will start in place of Victor Matfield, while Dean Greyling replaces Morné Mellet in the front row.
Prior to last year's shock victory for the Lions, the Bulls had won the previous nine meetings between the rivals. On Saturday they'll go in search of their fifth consecutive win, which would see them move to the summit of the South African conference prior to the Sharks' meeting with the Crusaders.
Pollard missed the defeat at Ellis Park last season, with Potgieter making a number of errors that contributed to the Bulls' downfall. However, the Bulls have shown signs of progress in the year since, with Kriel one of the fresh faces offering cause for excitement among Bulls' supporters.
HEAD TO HEAD
Overall: Lions 1, Bulls 10, Draw 1
At Ellis Park: Lions 1, Bulls 4, Draw 1
STATS AND FACTS
– Prior to their last meeting, which the Lions won, the Bulls had won their previous nine games against the Lions.
– The Lions’ seven matches this season have all yielded 41 or fewer points and an average of 35.
– The Bulls are aiming for five straight victories for the first time since 2013 when they went nine in a row.
– The Bulls have averaged the most points this season (28), while only the Reds (9.3) have turned in less per game than the Lions (13.7).
|Team||Top point-scorer||Top try-scorer||Most metres gained||Most tackles|
|Lions||Elton Jantjies (46)||Ruan Combrinck, Warwick Tecklenburg (2)||Andries Coetzee (254)||Warren Whiteley (104)|
|Bulls||Handré Pollard (108)||Deon Stegmann, Francois Hougaard, Handré Pollard, Jan Serfontein (2)||Jesse Kriel (494)||Lappies Labuschagne (74)|
Lions – 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Ruan Combrinck, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Harold Vorster, 11 Anthony Volmink, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Ross Cronje, 8 Warren Whiteley (c), 7 Warwick Tecklenburg, 6 Derick Minnie, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Andries Ferreira, 3 Ruan Dreyer, 2 Robbie Coetzee, 1 Jacques van Rooyen.
Subs: 16 Armand van der Merwe, 17 Corné Fourie, 18 Julian Redelinghuys, 19 Robert Kruger, 20 Jaco Kriel, 21 Faf de Klerk, 22 Marnitz Boshoff, 23 Howard Mnisi.
Bulls – 15 Jesse Kriel, 14 Francois Hougaard, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Burger Odendaal, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Jacques-Louis Potgieter, 9 Rudy Paige, 8 Pierre Spies (c), 7 Hanro Liebenberg, 6 Deon Stegmann, 5 Grant Hattingh, 4 Jacques du Plessis, 3 Trevor Nyakane, 2 Adriaan Strauss, 1 Dean Greyling.
Subs: 16 Callie Visagie, 17 Morné Mellett, 18 Marcel van der Merwe, 19 Nicolaas Janse van Rensburg, 20 Roelof Smit, 21 Piet van Zyl, 22 Tian Schoeman, 23 Jurgen Visser.
Photo: Anne Laing/HSM Images