Super Rugby

Patience now goes hand-in-hand with Jaco Kriel and the Lions

"Luckless" is a phrase easily attributable to Jaco Kriel these past few years.

Since picking up a serious shoulder injury on Springbok duty in mid-2017, the influential Lions flanker has been spending more time doing rehab than performing his bustling on-field deeds.

Even his 18-month stint at English club Gloucester was marred by fitness issues, which saw his much-trumpeted return to Ellis Park earlier this year also being overshadowed by an ankle problem.

Kriel's characteristic enthusiasm though assisted greatly in him recovering faster than expected and he was slated to return to action last month.

The stage seemed set for him to gradually dispel doubts over his body and revive a Lions Super Rugby campaign that was derailing.

And then, Covid-19 struck.

"Everybody is in the same boat because of the pandemic, so I believe you should see it from that positive perspective," Kriel told Sport24.

"It's good for the body to have an extended break, but it's a balancing act. You don't want to be out of rugby for too long. In the end, it's about match fitness again and the only way to achieve that is to be on the field."

The 11-cap Bok's early departure from Kingsholm, where former Lions coach Johan Ackermann is in charge, was unexpected and perhaps provided some perspective on certain overlooked factors that are part and parcel of South African players' exodus overseas.

Kriel has never shied away from admitting he had an intense desire to be closer to his family again.

"The experience of going over as well as the adaptation differs from each player. We were a great group of guys at Gloucester. The support structures in place were excellent and coach Ackers and his family also played a huge role in me finding my feet. I'll always be grateful," said Kriel, who shared a dressing room with four other former Lions in Franco Mostert, Ruan Dreyer, Corne Fourie and Ruan Ackermann.

But the lure of being home was simply too big.

"My father is struggling with his health. He never missed a single game of mine at Ellis Park. It was always a treat seeing my family and lifelong friends afterwards, to chat about the game, giving my dad a hug and getting a kiss on the cheek from my mom. It was something I longed for while I was in the UK."

It would probably be unfair to expect Kriel to immediately find his mojo again, particularly given his long period of inactivity as well as having to be a senior player in a team firmly in transition.

"We need to be patient. When we had to rebuild in 2013, our coaches told us to stick it out and keep on doing what we're doing," he said.

"The success we achieved from that approach is something that we can replicate now too. It's important for all of us now to develop our culture under a new dispensation and buy into it. Lockdown has actually been very good for us, it's allowed us to raise issues and share ideas. Everyone know is far more comfortable providing input.

"I'm really excited about this new chapter. We work really hard and I believe we can learn a lot from each other, old or young." 

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