Kriel joins scramble for Bok place

    2015-05-20 09:59

    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 home.

    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.”

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