Cape Town - Losing Jaco Kriel just as he was demonstrating real international pedigree has curtailed the Springboks’ prospects of an upset victory over the All Blacks in the Rugby Championship match in Albany on Saturday.
So says one of the most legendary of Bok tearaway loose forwards, Rob Louw, who played with similar vigour and speed to the Lions-based favourite in his own heyday.
Speaking to Sport24 at Paarl this week, where he was a VIP sports guest at the launch of Indian actress Preity Zinta’s Stellenbosch Kings franchise in the Cricket South Africa T20 Global League, Louw said Kriel’s return home through injury was “a heck of a big blow” to the underdogs’ chances against the world champions.
“He’s a fetcher-cum-ball-runner and also offers a tremendous amount of pace out wide; I was seriously impressed with him (against Australia in Perth).
“Jaco is a big, big loss for us; I was watching the New Zealand chat show on television earlier this week (The Breakdown) and I saw the panel of experts actually giggle, because they all knew he was a major sacrifice for this week’s game.
“He and Siya (Kolisi) have been quite exceptional at times - perhaps even more than our local press have been crediting them for. We will miss the cover tackles Jaco pulls off, because of his sheer speed, which would have been a big aid against a team like New Zealand.”
Louw said Coenie Oosthuizen had also exceeded expectations of him - “he’s been amazing; shown real guts” - in the tighthead prop spot.
The big Sharks unit has also been ruled out of the All Blacks date with his broken arm and, speaking even before it became known more recently that scrumhalf Ross Cronje had also pulled out, the Springbok open-side or occasional No 8 whippet of the 1980s, now 62, said the disruptions had come at a bad time for the hitherto unbeaten national side in 2017.
“Look, it’s not all bad in that respect … I’ve been very impressed with young (Jean-Luc) du Preez; he’s been very impactful whenever he’s come on as a substitute, so him starting in Kriel’s place brings different (qualities) to the team.
“I do have some concerns about Uzair Cassiem in the No 8 jersey; he’s got future potential but that is not his familiar position and he’s still very much learning the controlling aspects of the job there.”
But Louw also fancies that the area the Boks will be most examined at on Saturday will be under the high ball where they were “very suspect” in the 23-23 draw against the Wallabies.
“They’ll be peppering our wings and fullback, you can be pretty sure … I would certainly have called up Ruan Combrinck to bolster our resources in those areas.
“On the whole, I must compliment the Boks on what they’ve achieved this year in regaining pride; last year there were some games where the disgrace levels were such that I just couldn’t watch. The improvement is fantastic, and I take my hat off to the coaching staff as much as the players.”
Louw admitted the New Zealand challenge on Saturday would be “very, very difficult” despite the brighter signs by South Africa.
“They have just about 15 players with X-factor and we can’t yet match them for that number … we are short of pace in our backline, for example, in certain areas.
“But I believe we can dominate the scrums and lineouts, which would at least give us a chance; the Bok tight five looks good.”
*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing