Bok midfield holds key
Jesse Kriel, playing at outside centre, will be integral to SA’s showing, along with inside centre Jan Serfontein
Jesse Kriel’s development as a Test-class outside centre is intricately linked to the Wallabies.
It was against them in 2015 in Brisbane that he exploded onto the scene with a try on debut, even though the Springboks inexplicably faltered to lose an eminently winnable game.
With 21 Tests under his belt, Kriel is part of a midfield that includes Elton Jantjies and Jan Serfontein as the Boks hunt for six wins out of six in 2017.
It is a far cry from 2016’s farcical showings in which the Boks limped into Brisbane on the back of losses against Ireland and Argentina.
While Serfontein has been the undoubted star of the backline show as Jantjies has finally looked like a world-class pivot, Kriel has been bubbling under.
Saturday’s Rugby Championship clash against the Wallabies at nib Stadium will be an opportunity for him to prove he is no one-trick pony.
Tevita Kuridrani has been a formidable adversary in the recent past and was critical to Australia’s improved showing despite their 35-29 defeat to the All Blacks in Dunedin in August.
Kriel is aware of how dangerous the Wallabies can be, especially in the manner in which they bounced back after the All Blacks put them to the sword on August 19 at home.
"They’re a great side and they’re playing at home. However, we’ve said to ourselves that if we want to be the best team and win the Rugby Championship, we need to beat whoever and that’s the mind-set we have at the moment," Kriel said.
Like most of his teammates, Kriel has not played in a team that has beaten Australia in Australia. Tendai "Beast" Mtawarira, Eben Etzebeth, Coenie Oosthuizen, Siya Kolisi and Serfontein are the only survivors that ran the Wallabies ragged with a 38-12 win at Suncorp Stadium in 2013.
Etzebeth will be captaining the side, while the rest are valuable senior players.
One of the reasons Jantjies and company have thrived this season is because of the platform provided by Mtawarira, Oosthuizen and Malcolm Marx.
The Bok forwards have been impressive this season, but the Australian pack tends to live by its own rules.
What the forwards get up to has not always been Kriel’s concern, but how they deal with their Australian counterparts will have a significant bearing on how the backs will function.
Kriel knows what will be expected from him and Serfontein. The duo shrugged off a forgettable Super Rugby campaign with the Bulls.
"Jan is a world-class player and makes things easy for me on the outside," Kriel said.
"He creates a lot of space and he’s a hard worker. He has a lot of unseen actions and unseen efforts ... that puts the pieces of the puzzle together."