Jaco Kriel relishing life at Lions
Gareth Duncan - MyPlayers.co.za
Johannesburg - Lions captain Jaco Kriel continues to impress on the South African rugby scene.
Ask any South African rugby fan about their favourite moments of the 2015 season and most of them will point to Kriel’s outstanding performances for the Lions.
Throughout Super Rugby and the Currie Cup, the 26-year-old loose forward was a key source of momentum. He has a special skill of being able to bump off tackles on attack, offering his team regular go-forward ball, while his tackling abilities and breakdown poaching skills put the opposition’s attack on the back foot.
His individual contributions helped the Lions achieve their most successful Super Rugby campaign, while he captained the Johannesburg-based side to an unbeaten run in the Currie Cup, clinching their first domestic title since 2011.
So it came as no surprise when he was named MyPlayers’ Player of the Year, an award presented by MyPlayers. In addition to this, he also received the Player of the Year, Players’ Player of the Year and Supporters’ Player of the Year awards at the Lions prize-giving, highlighting his positive influence on and off the field.
“All these awards were very special for me. It was a huge honour receiving this recognition from my peers, who I play with and against week in and week out,” Kriel tells MyPlayers Magazine.
“I cherished the recognition from the Lions family very much as this is where I started my career. It was always my goal to make a valuable contribution to Lions rugby. I give a lot of credit to my coaches and team-mates, who back me on the field.
“I was very disappointed not be included in the Springbok squad that competed at the Rugby World Cup last year, so the collective and individual achievements were all very special. Especially the Currie Cup campaign… it’s a memory that will last a lifetime.”
The Lions are definitely a team on the rise. This was confirmed when they beat the Sharks 37-10 in Johannesburg last weekend, which secured their Super Rugby play-off place.
What is the secret to this success?
“A lot of credit needs to go to coach Akkers (head coach Johan Ackermann),” Kriel explains. “In the beginning, we were just a squad of different guys with different backgrounds. Many of the players had come from teams where they weren’t getting many opportunities. There weren’t many so-called ‘superstars’.
“But coach Akkers believed in us as a unit. He made a big difference when it came to our mindset and gelled us into a team that relied on group effort. As team-mates, we play for each other.
“He’s also a great coach, who is very passionate about his job. He’s very good when it comes to player management and is very honest with us. He tells it how it is, which is very important.
“It’s been special seeing this group of players grow into a close unit. There’s mutual respect among coaches and players at the Lions.”
During the recent June Tests against Ireland, Kriel recently achieved his dream of becoming a Springbok. He now wants to add to this legacy.
“Making my Test debut was definitely a proud moment. It’s been a dream of mine since I was little boy, growing up on the farm back in Standerton,” said Kriel.
“From the team’s point of view, the Lions will aim to continue its growth in Super Rugby and the Currie Cup. It won’t be easy this season as teams will be analysing us closer than before. They will target every detail, which will make things very difficult. But we are up for this massive challenge.
“An important thing for us is to establish a culture of success and pass that on to the next generation of players coming through the structures. We want to develop a proud brand of rugby at the Lions.”
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