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
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
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
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
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:
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.
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.
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