Springboks

Why Jaco Kriel in a Bok jersey again isn't a preposterous idea

Jaco Kriel (AFP)
Jaco Kriel (AFP)

As popular as he is among local rugby fans, Jaco Kriel has understandably fallen off the Springboks' radar.

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30 injury-ravaged months will invariably translate into the world moving on from any player.

Upon his return to Ellis Park in February, the 30-year-old flanker pertinently noted how national selection had to be put on the back-burner as an ambition, simply because he first needs to play for an extended period of time again.

Yet, as much a Springbok jersey seems unlikely at the moment, Kriel's case is an intriguing one.

When he bowed out midway through the national side’s ill-fated Rugby Championship tour of 2017 - anyone remember 57-0? - he did so on a relative high.

Picked out of position at blindside flank by Allister Coetzee because of Siya Kolisi's compelling form, Kriel performed surprisingly well.

After three rounds of that year's campaign, he had completed the most tackles (39), made the third-most dominant hits and still found enough gas in the tank to make the most turnovers too.

For a man considered a bit small for the blindside role - Kriel's 1.84m and weighs just shy of 100kg - he fulfilled it pretty damn well.

The point here is that Kriel isn't going to dislodge a Pieter-Steph du Toit or a Duane Vermeulen.

What's important is that he's adaptable.

"Well, I did once play at wing off the bench for the Boks (in 2016)," he told Sport24 with a chuckle.

"I've played in a lot of positions in my life. The majority of my coaches just told me to play it as I see it and I believe that experience has allowed me to read the game pretty well."

Kriel isn't naive - he's well aware that versatility is invariably more of a curse than gift in South African rugby.

As a result, he prudently still favours his beloved No 6 jersey.

"I really like being a fetcher. I enjoy playing to the ball," said Kriel.

"You'll also find me defending in the wider channels, particularly when the support play comes in a bit late!"

A focus on playing openside, regardless of whether he’s in the national frame, is arguably the most realistic way for him to get back into the Springbok team.

And before one dismisses the idea based on the perception that the national setup nowadays favours a more "traditional" loose trio composition, a reminder is in order. 

Rassie Erasmus has shown a willingness to give nippier loose forwards like Kwagga Smith and Marco van Staden an opportunity.

In fact, if Bok coach Jacques Nienaber had to pick a locally-based national squad immediately after Super Rugby's suspension, he'd be faced with a glut of "smaller" No 6s (skipper Siya Kolisi would’ve still been injured) in the form of James Venter, Van Staden and Marnus Schoeman.

Venter in particular flourished in a Sharks pattern that very much resembled the Springboks.

Given the skillset he's displayed in the past, an in-form Kriel could easily slot in at international level.

It's probably unlikely, but hardly preposterous.

Follow Heinz Schenk on Twitter

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