Kriel for Boks … if in right combo!

2016-05-26 13:00
Jaco Kriel (Getty)

Cape Town – Jaco Kriel seems poised to give the Springboks an appealing new dimension in the June home series against Ireland, but assembling the correct remaining loose forward personnel around him could be an important proviso if he cracks the starting line-up.

The Lions flanker’s claims from Super Rugby are almost irresistible this season, to the point that many pundits tip him not just for the broader Bok squad – Allister Coetzee reveals his maiden group on Saturday night – but have him in their preferred XVs to begin the 2016 international journey as well.

Kriel, 26, has featured in occasional, extended Bok squads before but remains uncapped in the green and gold, so may well earn his overdue debut against the Irish in the first Test at Newlands on June 11.

He is less orthodox than many South African – and more global -- open-side flanks, given that his main area of renown is his swift, often devastating linking and line-breaking in open play, which almost makes him like an extra backline player in the pack.

This is reflected in his vital statistics (around 1.84m and barely 100kg), although nobody doubts his strength and athleticism and he would be an intriguing breath of fresh air given that Bok loose trios of the Heyneke Meyer era tended to be of pretty hefty physical proportions and fairly “one-paced”.

Whenever all were properly fit, Meyer was often most comfortable during his four-year tenure with a combination of Francois Louw, Willem Alberts and Duane Vermeulen (veteran Schalk Burger saw service often enough too) which seldom went backwards in the collisions department but slightly lacked for X-factor.

Louw was the Bok No 6 throughout their third place-earning RWC 2015 campaign late last year, so if the more whippet-like Kriel forces his way into the mix at Newlands, a fairly lengthy sequence of appearances in that shirt ends for the Bath-based stalwart of 43 Tests.

But should that automatically mean that Louw – there was no guarantee he would even make the imminent squad at the time of writing -- doesn’t start for the Boks in the first Test?

One feasible option that has perhaps been overlooked by some critics is that player’s ability to perform the blind-side task; he began his Stormers career (2008-2011) at seven when Burger was still the open-side dynamo before his late-career remodelling as a “libero” type of loosie.

As recently as July last year, Meyer surprised a few people by switching Louw to blind-side against the All Blacks at Emirates Airline Park (Richie McCaw’s late try saw the tourists snatch a 27-20 win in a very tight contest) and suddenly giving the specialist fetcher job to Heinrich Brussow – a player widely believed he was fairly averse to.

So the thought of Louw being the rookie Kriel’s flank-mate in the first Irish Test shouldn’t be summarily dismissed; it is a prospect this writer wouldn’t resent and maybe there are others in positions of greater influence sharing that view.

The possibility of Louw, whose sturdy 114kg, 1.90m frame makes his well suited to No 7, being able to aid Kriel in the ball-stealing area would be quite reassuring, simultaneously freeing up Kriel to play more of his natural, roaming game in the loose and not get too obsessively caught up in industrial matters at the breakdown.

That is not to say that Kriel comes up short as a pure fetcher: he has traditionally proved more than capable in that department and in the 2014 Super Rugby season, if some stats sources are to be believed, was second among South Africans only to the Sharks’ Marcell Coetzee – a long-term injury casualty this year – in securing turnovers.

But he is also an elusive, stealthy attacker, as evidenced by statistical information from this season suggesting that he and Lions colleague Ruan Combrinck are the top SA players and joint-ninth overall for beating of defenders thus far (31 times each).

It would be a tasty prospect to see Kriel given the licence to maraud about the park in much the manner a spring-heeled Rob Louw did for the Boks a few decades ago.

That said, the country prides itself in fielding big, powerful loosies for tight-loose bossing purposes as well, and in terms of that scenario an alliance of Kriel and Louw as flanks with Duane Vermeulen at No 8 – the Toulon muscle-man is also capable of aggressive pilfers on the deck and rips out of the hands of upright foes -- seems to tick most boxes.

At least to me it does.

*Without the benefit of being able to read Coetzee’s mind about his squad preferences and just how many overseas-based stars might be able or willing to fly in (the fog will clear significantly on Saturday) this is roughly the sort of match-day 23 I would personally be keen to see him field for the Newlands Test:

15 Willie le Roux, 14 Ruan Combrinck, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 JP Pietersen, 10 Pat Lambie, 9 Rudy Paige, 8 Duane Vermeulen (capt), 7 Francois Louw, 6 Jaco Kriel, 5 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Adriaan Strauss, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.

Substitutes: 16 Malcolm Marx, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 Julian Redelinghuys, 19 Lood de Jager, 20 Siya Kolisi, 21 Faf de Klerk, 22 Johan Goosen, 23 Jesse Kriel.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    springboks  |  jaco kriel  |  rugby

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