Give me a flanker who scores tries any day

2014-10-26 15:00

Standing out from the crowd in a country boasting some of the finest loose forwards in world rugby is difficult, but that is exactly what Lions flanker Jaco Kriel has done.

Going into yesterday’s Absa Currie Cup final at Newlands, the Lions’ number 6 was the top try scorer in the 2014 competition, with nine tries, and his must at least be one of the names pencilled in on national coach Heyneke Meyer’s list, which will be announced today, of the squad to tour Europe.

Dr Danie Craven used to say: “Give me a flanker who scores tries and I’ll have him in my team any day.” Kriel has certainly obliged on that score by besting the three-quarters who normally top the try-scoring charts.

His ninth try of the tournament, after a rampaging 50-metre run against the Sharks in the semifinal at Ellis Park, is among the nominations for Try of the Season, but it is not just the flashy stuff that has caught the eye.

Kriel is amazingly strong on his feet and difficult to bring down, he has a keen anticipation of the flow of the game, a good sense of space and exceptional pace to enable him to make the incursions that played such a big role in sinking the Sharks in the semifinal.

The sturdy breakaway was taken off at half-time to allow the Lions’ medical team to start nursing a tweaked hamstring ahead of the final, but by then the foundation for victory had been laid.

The irony would not have been lost on some of the Sharks’ back-up staff because in 2013 a chance was lost to get Kriel into the black-and-white rather than the Lions’ red-and-white.

Last season, when the Lions were excluded from the Super Rugby tournament, Kriel and fullback Andries Coetzee were sent on loan to King’s Park when the Sharks ran into serious injury problems, but unlike Western Province, which signed Jaco Taute and tried to hang on to Elton Jantjies, he was allowed to return to Johannesburg after just a week.

Hailing from Standerton in Mpumalanga, Kriel says he owes a lot to his Standerton High School coach Riaan Viviers.

“Up to Standard 8 [Grade 10], I was a fly half, but one day Mr Viviers told me to go to number 6. He just told me to play my natural game, to play to the ball and concentrate on linking.”

Kriel believes this early grounding has enabled him to fit into the Lions’ pattern as he is comfortable running with or handling the ball and looking for opportunities to provide continuity.

He revealed that he has always been a Lions fan. “Growing up, my hero was Wikus van Heerden.

“I was devastated when he moved to the Bulls, but he returned to the Lions to win the Currie Cup in 2011 and it was one of the greatest learning experiences of my life to meet him, practise and play with him at the Lions.

“It was great to see how he conducted himself on and off the field. Wikus was my role model.”

The country boy certainly deserves a Bok call-up, but tomorrow will tell whether Meyer has departed from his “big-is-better” mantra or whether there is room for Kriel in the team.

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