Jesse Kriel feels that the Springboks have what it takes to keep Ireland’s hulking centres Bundee Aki and Robbie Henshaw in check on Saturday. JON CARDINELLI in Dublin reports.
Both sets of backs head into the clash at the Aviva Stadium with a point to prove. Bok coach Allister Coetzee has retained the halfback pair of Ross Cronjé and Elton Jantjies, a combination that battled in the last match against the All Blacks.
Damian de Allende is under pressure to fill the defensive shoes of Jan Serfontein at No 12, while Courtnall Skosan, Dillyn Leyds and Andries Coetzee will all be featuring in their first Test in northern hemisphere conditions.
Ireland possess a world-class halfback combination in Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton. In Aki and Robbie Henshaw they have a green, yet potentially game-winning midfield pairing.
Neither player wants for size. Aki, the former Chiefs man who will make his Test debut, stands at 1.83m and 101kg. Henshaw is even bigger at 1.91m and 102kg.
The Boks certainly want for size and height out wide. In the midfield, however, they have two big bodies in De Allende (1.90m and 105kg) and Kriel (1.86m and 95kg).
The Boks will need to win the set pieces and breakdowns to improve their chances of controlling the gainline. Thereafter, men like De Allende and Kriel will be tasked with making inroads into the Irish defence.
On the other hand, a poor showing up front could heap the pressure on the Bok midfield.
‘They’re both big physical guys, and we can expect a big match-up there,’ Kriel said of the looming battle with Aki and Henshaw. ‘We’re looking forward to it.
‘Aki’s got a lot of X-factor and we will have to watch him. But we can’t focus on one guy. Our focus is on what we can do.’
Serfontein has asked for time to settle at his club in France and will not be available for the Boks’ four-match tour of Europe. De Allende is the only specialist No 12 in the squad at present. Frans Steyn, who played for the Boks against France earlier this year, has been overlooked.
Kriel believes that De Allende has what it takes to make an impact in that crucial inside centre position.
‘Damian’s a really exciting player and I’m happy to see him back,’ said Kriel. ‘He’s a really good communicator and that does help a lot on defence.
‘On attack, he’s special with ball in hand. He’s got the ability to beat the guy in front of him. That forces the defender on the outside to make unwanted actions. That creates a lot of space.’
Kriel noted the challenge of playing in northern-hemisphere conditions. He added that nobody in the Bok side will be using that as an excuse for a poor performance, though.
‘Conditions do play a role, but the coaches want us to be an all-round team. Allister has said that we have to be able to adapt to anything that is thrown our way. That’s the mindset we have.
‘Test matches don’t always go according to plan. You have to be able to adapt to the situation. That’s why it’s called a test of character.
‘We’re really up for the challenge, even more so given that it’s been a while since a lot of the guys have played.’
Photo: Luke Walker/Gallo Images