Kriel ready to rise to challenge on the wing
Bok utility back points to aerial skills and defence as boxes that must be ticked
Jesse Kriel’s redeployment to the wing for Saturday’s clash against Wales does not require significant changes to his preparation.
Kriel will start on the wing for just the third time when the Springboks square up with Wales at the Principality Stadium in the opening Test of their end-of-year tour, but the utility back was quick to emphasise the versatility in the Bok back division.
“Our preparation doesn’t change much. Most of our outside backs are able to play in various positions,” said Kriel, who wasted little time in highlighting what an outside back’s primary role has become.
“We have a great focus on aerial skills. Mzwandile Stick has been doing a great job with the outside backs. Even before the World Cup. Aerial skills is something we’ve worked hard on. We are pretty comfortable playing wherever.
“I obviously love playing my rugby at centre but I enjoy it just as much on the wing. I just want to do what is best for the team.”
Kriel of course made his senior debut at fullback but he does not foresee lining up there any time soon.
“I see myself as playing in the centres and wing. We have three world-class fullbacks. Willie [le Roux, who is rested this weekend] has been doing an unbelievable job of teaching and coaching Damian [Willemse] and Aphelele [Fassi]. He has also been helping me on the wing, giving advice and tips.
“If I really had to cover fullback I’d be comfortable to do that, but we have enough guys who excel in that role.”
Apart from taking command of the high ball, international wings need to have their wits about them on defence. A centre moving into the wider channels comes with some of the default requirements, and Kriel fits the bill.
“We take great pride in our defensive system. Organising, being able to decide who folds, controlling who stays and who goes. Being able to communicate throughout the game and telling guys where to go is a big part of our defensive system. Being able to be vocal and making the big defensive reads we want to make as a team. All that ties into the role I have to play this weekend,” said Kriel.
Kriel started at outside centre in the last two Bok defeats in Cardiff in 2017 and 2018 in matches he described as “close Tests”. “They had a simple game plan that they executed really well,” he said of Warren Gatland’s Wales team on a typically tight leash. “We didn’t handle it as well as we should have. It is something we’ve worked hard on. We have also come a long way as a team.”
The last point is significant for different reasons. The Springboks have won a Rugby Championship, a Rugby World Cup and a series against the British & Irish Lions since they last visited Cardiff. Much of that was made possible by a revised selection criteria that no longer restricts the head coach in his selection of foreign-based players.
The Boks have played Wales a few times outside the Test window, but that did not help their cause in the four consecutive defeats they have suffered in Cardiff.
Kriel said building on continuity in selection was “a big factor for us”.