Jesse and Dan Kriel played together for the Junior Boks, writes SIMON BORCHARDT. Now they want to make their mark with the Bulls.
The Junior Springboks were trailing New Zealand 14-9 after half an hour of their pool match at this year’s Junior World Championship when they stole the hosts’ lineout ball on halfway. After a couple of strong runs from the forwards, flyhalf Handré Pollard passed to inside centre Dan Kriel, who took play into the 22 before finding Sergeal Petersen on the left wing. He gave the ball back inside to No 13 Jesse Kriel, who brushed off the tackle of Vincent Tavae-Aso to score in the corner.
Jesse punched the air in delight with Dan the first to congratulate him. It was a special moment for the 20-year-old twins who, having played rugby together all their lives, were now making their mark on the world stage.
‘It’s always great to score a try in the green and gold jersey, but it’s even better when your brother has played a part in the build-up and is there to celebrate it with you,’ says Jesse.
‘We always want the best for each other,’ adds Dan, ‘so that try was a great moment we’ll never forget.’
Jesse punched the air in delight with Dan the first to congratulate him
The Kriel twins’ rugby story begins at Underberg School, in the Southern Drakensberg, when they were six years old. Jesse played flyhalf and Dan prop because, he says with a laugh, he was one of the tallest kids. Underberg, though, only had one rugby team per age group, so in Grade 6 the twins moved to Merchiston Primary in Pietermaritzburg, which had more teams and more opposition. Dan played on the wing and Jesse spent time at 10 and 12. Both were chosen to represent KwaZulu-Natal at U12 level, while Jesse also made the U13 team.
It was when they were 16 and at Maritzburg College – a school that has produced 13 Springboks – that they realised rugby was a viable career option for them. Dan was selected for the KwaZulu-Natal team that went to Upington for the U16 Grant Khomo Week, but broke his ankle in the first half of their opening match against the Blue Bulls. Jesse was gutted not to make that U16 side – he still doesn’t know why he was overlooked – but he was picked for the U18 Craven Week in Port Elizabeth two years later. This time, though, it was Dan who missed out, having dislocated a shoulder during College’s match against KES that May. He would be sidelined for nine months and miss the rest of the 1st XV season.
Jesse played fullback at Craven Week, scoring two tries in KZN’s 48-24 win against Free State and another in their 17-8 loss to the Golden Lions. SA Schools selection duly followed and he started at 15 against France and England’s U18 sides before being an unused substitute against Wales.
Most would have expected the Kriel twins, products of the KZN rugby system, to sign with the Sharks, but, while the union did try to keep them in the province after school, the Blue Bulls beat them to it.
‘The Bulls took great care of us,’ says Dan. ‘They organised us boots and flew us up to Pretoria when we were in Grade 11. Jesse and I were really impressed with the Bulls’ structures and facilities, and while we had grown up dreaming of playing for the Sharks, we decided to sign [three-year contracts] with the Bulls.’
It didn’t take the twins long to lift their first trophy in blue, as they were part of the Bulls U19 team that won all 13 of their matches in last year’s domestic tournament, including a 35-23 victory against the Golden Lions in the final at Newlands. Jesse, who captained the U19s, also played three matches for the U21s.
While neither Jesse nor Dan were selected for the initial SA U20 squad for the 2013 Junior World Championship, Jesse was called up when the EP Kings’ Sergeal Petersen pulled out with a hamstring injury. After coming off the bench in the pool matches against the USA, England and France, and being an unused substitute in the 18-17 semi-final loss to Wales, Jesse started at outside centre in the third-place play-off against New Zealand, which South Africa won 41-34.
Both Kriel brothers were selected for this year’s Junior Boks squad. Playing at outside centre, Jesse scored two tries in the 61-5 thrashing of Scotland, one in the 33-24 pool win against the Baby Blacks (which Dan had a hand in) and two in the 21-20 defeat to England in the final. Having missed his side’s first match, Dan started at 12 in the pool match against New Zealand, 13 against Samoa (with Jesse at fullback) and 14 against England in the final.
While disappointed to have lost the decider by the narrowest of margins, the twins are proud of what the Junior Boks achieved.
‘To beat New Zealand twice in New Zealand was a massive achievement for us,’ says Jesse. ‘[Coach] Dawie Theron and [captain] Handré Pollard’s success against them made us believe we could also do it. They have never lost to New Zealand in four Junior World Championship matches [in three years].’
‘This was the first time I had played New Zealand,’ adds Dan. ‘The coach said we must make a statement against them now, so that those New Zealand players remember it for the rest of their careers.’
To reach the final, the Junior Boks had to beat the hosts twice and a physical Samoan team, while England had an easier run-in with pool games against Italy, Australia and Argentina, and a semi-final against Wales. Theron believes his team showed signs of mental fatigue in the final and Dan admits they ‘didn’t pitch up on the night’. Both twins, though, insist South Africa lost the match because they made too many mistakes.
‘The Bulls took great care of us. They organised us boots and flew us up to Pretoria when we were in Grade 11' – Dan Kriel
Jesse and Dan have the same short- and long-term goals. Both want to play Currie Cup rugby for the Blue Bulls this year and should do so with Jan Serfontein and JJ Engelbrecht expected to be on Springbok duty for much of the domestic tournament. But there will still be stiff competition. Former Junior Boks centre William Small-Smith made his Super Rugby debut in May, Jürgen Visser is the incumbent fullback, while Akona Ndungane and Bjorn Basson are the first-choice wings.
The twins, though, hope to get enough Currie Cup game time to put themselves into contention for next year’s Super Rugby squad. Jesse was part of the extended training group at the beginning of this year, before playing for the Blue Bulls in the Vodacom Cup. In July, he was named on the Bulls bench for their last Super Rugby match against the Rebels. Dan, meanwhile, was part of the Tuks U20 team that won the Young Guns competition.
Their long-term goal is an obvious one – to play Test rugby for the Springboks. Only eight sets of brothers have played together in a Test for the Boks since World War II, with Bismarck and Jannie du Plessis having done it 34 times by the end of the June Test series.
Joining that elite club really would be a moment the twins will never forget.
– This article first appeared in the August 2014 issue of SA Rugby magazine