Kriel knocking on Bok door

    2015-04-14 18:30

    Pretoria - Bulls fullback Jesse Kriel certainly has been one of the best things to come out of this year’s Super Rugby tournament and few would disagree that he is a future Springbok in the making.

    But the website asks, will it be enough to get him into the Rugby World Cup as a wildcard?

    Saturday’s exceptional performance against the Reds only served to underline Kriel’s prowess at international level.

    Hardly looking out of place as a 20-year old, Kriel has – like Handré Pollard his Junior Bok teammate- made the step up to Super Rugby level rather effortlessly.

    No longer will teams facing the Bulls ready themselves for the traditional up-and-under when the 15 receives the pill. The move that has infuriated so many across the country and worked so effectively at times, no longer is the only option available to the Pretoria team.

    Couple that with the re-emergence of Francois Hougaard as a genuine international winger, and Bjorn Basson – who Reds coach Richard Graham rates as the best aerial exponent in the world at the moment – and Kriel has had a relatively cushioned entry into Super Rugby.

    But to reduce the exploits of the fullback to his teammates would be wrong.

    There are times in sport where a player who has that x-factor, that intrepid ability to size up opposition, make the right choice in a split second and back himself to the hilt comes along.

    Kriel had been spotted a long time ago, along with his brother Dan, who will take the step up in the next season or so, and destined for greatness.

    There was much consternation when the Bulls signed them from their Maritzburg College days, stealing them from under the noses of the Sharks, and they tasted immediate success with the Bulls under-19 team last year.

    With speed off the back, an unsung sidestep and the vision to pick a path downfield, Kriel has certainly impressed in his outings thus far.

    No wonder when one looks at the stats – the Vodacom Stats app – has him topping the metres earned with 769 – showing that his performances have been more than just Saturday’s thriller against the Reds.

    But it is sure that those metres helped – Kriel helped himself to 194 on Saturday to propel himself to the top and when you think of who he goes up against, it is more than just a mere number.

    Second on the metres earned this season is Wallaby force Israel Folau with 746, certainly no slouch in the attacking department.

    With Kriel on song, the back three has become an attacking weapon the Bulls haven’t had for quite some time, and it has created an impression on coach Frans Ludeke.

    "Jesse showed that he can create something out of nothing. That is something that we have missed over the past few seasons," coach Frans Ludeke commented after his team's win.

    "It goes to show that when you play together, you build success," Ludeke said.

    "I must say that as a team we are finally realising what works for us. We are fortunate enough to have old heads coming back and the youngsters we blooded last year playing well. There's a huge change from where we were last year. That back three of ours is making a huge difference week in week out."

    Kriel has also impressed the likes of former Bok Johan Heunis, who told Netwerk 24 last month he was “excited” about what he saw.

    "He's strong and quick off the mark. It may be a calculated risk to pick Kriel at such a young age, but sometimes you have to take the risk. There's no doubt he has the potential."

    Still, while Kriel undoubtedly is a talent, the question of whether he will head to England in the Green and Gold is debatable, given the way the squad is likely to be selected.

    With place for only one specialist fullback, Kriel can make the claim as he can play virtually anywhere in the backline, and starred in the 13 jersey for the Junior Boks in the IRB Junior World Championship last season.

    With his upper body strength, pace and ability, there is a strong argument that he can provide some much-needed energy to a Bok backline, and since Bok coach Heyneke Meyer has already shown he isn’t adverse to bucking the trend, he may well see international action sooner than later.

    Meyer picked Pollard before he was a regular at the Bulls, and Trevor Nyakane before he had a permanent starting role at the Bulls, and there is no reason why Kriel can’t become one of those players who have played themselves into the Bok setup.

    Add to that the value of a wildcard youngster when it pays off – Pollard against the All Blacks for one, Frans Steyn and JP Pietersen in the 2007 Rugby World Cup are other examples of where it has paid off.

    But competition is rife for spots to the Rugby World Cup and ensuring a squad that covers all the bases could count against the youngster.

    All Kriel can keep on doing is knocking hard on the door with performances like this.

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