Jesse Kriel’s departure limits Springbok coach’s midfield options
Rassie Erasmus will need to reshuffle team for game against Italy on Friday
Jesse Kriel’s departure has severely limited Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus’s midfield options for the remainder of the Rugby World Cup (RWC).
Kriel, who injured his hamstring against the All Blacks, was expected to return to the team for this Friday’s crucial clash against Italy in Shizuoka but the muscular centre aggravated the injury during training.
The injury was thought to be minor but the centre who ran on his own while the rest of the squad was put through its paces earlier this week‚ made matters worse.
His departure means Lukhanyo Am is now the only recognised outside centre in the Bok group.
Am has started all three matches‚ including the warm-up match, since the Springboks arrived in Japan.
Against the All Blacks‚ Kriel came off the bench to replace Am in the 56th minute, but the Boks will now be without the latter’s experience in the closing stages of matches.
Kriel will in particular be missed on defence where his organisational skills and sheer ruggedness in standing his ground are not easily replaced.
Am‚ of course‚ is also a stout defender, but the coach’s options will be limited should the player do himself a mischief.
Damian de Allende can also slot into that position should the need arise, which in turn provides the coach with several options for combinations at first and second receiver.
Handré Pollard has made the No 10 jersey his own but Elton Jantjies provides an option off the bench with Pollard moving to inside centre.
Frans Steyn is another player who can be used in either of those positions. Though he also covers as fullback, it is unlikely Erasmus will play him there from the start as his ability to make last-gasp cover tackles at the extremities is compromised.
Steyn does, however, provide the coach options from the bench and it is here where Jantjies‚ who disappointed against Namibia‚ may be squeezed out of the match-day 23 in the quarterfinals.
Then there is Kriel’s replacement in the squad‚ Damian Willemse, who will join the team from London where he has done duty for Saracens.
Willemse‚ though a natural flyhalf‚ has found himself occupying different positions in the backline. He will most likely be deployed as a fullback.
Though the Boks have Willie le Roux and Warrick Gelant as their designated fullback options‚ Willemse could stir things up if he is given a go against Canada in the Boks’ last pool match next Tuesday in Kobe.
It will be tough on Gelant, who can of course also be used on the wing.
In a quarterfinal scenario, Cheslin Kolbe would be a sure starter with Makazole Mapimpi occupying the other wing.
The coach has hinted that S’bu Nkosi is close to selection in his first XV, but finding room for the straight-running winger is going to be difficult.
Kolbe is proving a constant threat and the coach will be loath to move him to fullback.
Mapimpi has proved to be a try-scoring ace, becoming just the third Springbok to score 10 tries in his first 10 Tests after Pieter Rossouw and Bryan Habana.
Erasmus will tell you he does not want to think that far ahead as his team has a rather pressing engagement coming up against Italy first.
Should the Boks fluff their lines and lose to Italy for only the second time ever‚ they will effectively have one foot on a plane bound for home.