Kriel joins scramble for Bok place
Ockert de Villiers - Sport24
Johannesburg - One may think Springbok
coach Heyneke Meyer exaggerated when he said he had 12 world-class loose
forwards to choose from for his Rugby World Cup squad but the depth in the back
row has never looked better.
This is highlighted when considering that
talismanic Lions flank Jaco Kriel - one of the recent products of the
loose-forward production line - could be watching the rugby showpiece from
With only five loosies set to make the cut
for the World Cup, some players that would otherwise be deserving of the
Springbok jersey are bound to be disappointed.
However, Kriel believed the depth among
South African loose forwards spurred him on and ultimately ensured that only
the best made it to the top.
“If there is one place that has an
oversupply of good loose forwards, it is South Africa which is good because you
know you can measure yourself with the best,” Kriel told Sport24.
“The challenge is that you play against
some of the world’s best players every week in Super Rugby but it makes you
work harder as you can’t afford to rest on your laurels.”
Kriel has been in blistering form since
returning to the run-on side after a niggling groin injury kept him out of the
starting XV on the Lions’ tour of Australia.
Watching Derick Minnie play ahead of him
during their successful spell on tour only seemed to have fuelled his hunger
for more game time.
“The season wasn’t always easy, I started
in the first couple of games and the middle part where the team did so well on
tour, I didn’t make the run-on side at all,” he said.
“It is not about the individual but about
the team which is something coach Ackies (Johan Ackermann) has instilled in us
where the players understand the rotational policy.
“It’s been great in the last few games
where I earned a start and started to build some momentum.”
Kriel is adding different skills to his
growing repertoire with the openside flank used as a lineout option despite
being at least a head shorter than some of the jumpers.
What he lacks in height, he makes up with
ball-playing ability and he has displayed the kind of speed that would see him
win a footrace with a wing.
Kriel has been working hard at improving
his game at the breakdown, an area of play where opensiders are judged by their
ability to win turnovers and slow down opposition ball.
“In the modern game you have to possess a
wide variety of skills and I’ve made a point of working hard on my game on the
ground which I think is getting there,” Kriel said.
“It is still not where I want it to be but
that is why one trains and a lot of hard work comes in.”
The Lions have been boxing above their
weight since their return to Super Rugby in 2014, with the Johannesburg side
surpassing their best winning record of seven in a season last year.
They have already equalled that record in
their victory over the Hurricanes a fortnight ago with three matches left of
the regular season.
Kriel believed the year the Lions spent in
the Super Rugby wilderness in 2013 ultimately made them battle hardened and
instilled the tenacious character they have displayed over the last two years.
“It was really difficult for us where we
had an uncertain future but coach Ackies told us to only focus on what we can
control,” Kriel said.
“That struggle banded us together as a
group and it has motivated us because we know what it is like at that low point
and not to take Super Rugby participation for granted.”