Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town – There will be numerous others
to get pulses racing in Saturday’s Vodacom Super Rugby final, but the looming individual
duel between open-side flank tearaways Jaco Kriel and Ardie Savea already looks
a particularly difficult one to surpass.
This speedy, thrillingly game-breaking
pair, neither of whom would look remotely out of place if stationed game-long
among the outside backs, enter the showpiece for the Lions and home-town
Hurricanes respectively off thunderous performances in their semi-finals on
different parts of the planet.
Savea starred virtually from start to
finish in the Wellingtonians’ comfortable 25-9 triumph over the Chiefs, whilst
Kriel, also serving as acting leader in the absence through injury of Warren
Whiteley, similarly put a major personal stamp on his team’s 42-30 victory over
defending champions the Highlanders.
You could hardly have wished for more from
either open-sider on Saturday, whether on attack or defence.
But there is much more in common between
them, entering the red-letter day this weekend, than simply sparkling current form
at Super Rugby level.
Both recently made their maiden appearances
at Test level as substitutes, and will view the coveted final of the franchise
competition as wonderful opportunities to press harder claims for starting
rights once the Castle Rugby Championship begins a fortnight beyond.
Savea made two All Black appearances from
the “splinters” during the June series against Wales, and Kriel did likewise
for 20 minutes or so in the decisive third Test for the Springboks against
Ireland in Port Elizabeth.
As things stand, Savea, 22, is the primary
“fetching” understudy to Sam Cane for New Zealand, and 26-year-old Kriel is
behind Francois Louw in the South African open-side pecking order.
Yet both are sure to be rising in public and
pundit affection levels for greater Test deployment.
They are also proud one-team Super Rugby
servants; Savea is Wellington-born and has been in the ‘Canes squad mix since
2013, and Kriel – although born some 150km from Johannesburg, in Mpumalanga-based
Standerton – a loyal Lions man stretching back to the 2011 season.
Apart from leading a couple of exhilarating
break-outs by the Hurricanes against the Chiefs at the weekend, Savea displayed
rare zeal in the tackle department -- a development that has taken him to the
top of the competition-wide stats in that regard (192), now one above the
Mooloo Men’s Cane, his superior for the time being in All Black selection terms.
Two or three of his hits were borderline
ones in legality, coming close to the coat-hanger type, but they all played a
key role nevertheless in stunting the Chiefs’ raids.
Meanwhile at Emirates Airline Park just a
few hours later, Kriel similarly revelled in virtually all areas, including
making a crucial catch of a finely-weighted Elton Jantjies cross-kick with the
sun in his eyes to streak away for a try in the corner midway through the
As if to confirm the durable, turbo-infused
qualities to his engine, the Lions’ No 6 just seven minutes later thundered a
long distance to rein in a flying ball-carrier Matt Faddes and tackle him in
textbook style into touch, to the accompaniment of an approving roar from the
The vital statistics of Savea and Kriel are
not far removed, into the bargain: the former 1.88m and 100kg, the latter 1.84m
Savea can claim bragging rights from their
last match-up, the ordinary-season game in April, when the ‘Canes were
collectively at their most imperious in a 50-17 thrashing at Emirates Airline
Park – perhaps the lone really low point of the Lions’ otherwise vibrant
The whole visiting pack excelled in
thoroughly outwitting and outplaying the Lions at the breakdown, so it might be
overly cruel to suggest Kriel specifically played glaring second fiddle to
Savea in that area.
Yet figures for the season as a whole so
far suggest Kriel is at least the match for Savea for industry and value to the
Savea leads the tackling head-to-head by a
pretty wide 192-107 margin (success rate 92.8 percent to Kriel’s 89.9), plus boasts
more clean breaks (20-16), offloads (10-7) and passes (90-45).
Then again, Kriel rules the roost for tries
(6-5), carries (143-135), metres earned (822-620), and defenders beaten
He is also clearly a more useful occasional
option as a lineout-bagger, having claimed 14 to Savea’s solitary effort.
But when these two balls of fire lock horns
on Saturday, stats are likely to be the last thing on most onlookers’ minds.
Marks in pencil? Jaco Kriel and Ardie Savea
just seem to offer so much more to rugby union than that.
Bring on this one …
our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing