Springbok centres feed off each other’s energy and experience, says Jesse Kriel

FILE - Springbok centre Jesse Kriel in action during a training session. Photo: Michael Bradley/AFP

FILE - Springbok centre Jesse Kriel in action during a training session. Photo: Michael Bradley/AFP

Published Jul 30, 2023


The Springboks were forced to band together on Saturday night and weather an Argentinian push that stormed their line with ferocious intent, especially in the final quarter of their Rugby Championship clash.

It was by no means a pleasing victory over the Pumas, nor was it any sort of attractive – as head coach Jacques Nienaber freely attested to post-match – but there were a few positives; Jesse Kriel being one of them.

The 29-year-old doesn’t always enjoy the adoration of the SA rugby loving public, but there is no doubt that he was solid at Ellis Park in the narrow 22-21 win. Defensively – which has always been acknowledged as the strongest facet of his game – he was immense: He did not miss one of his tackles.

He also enjoyed a few moments on attack, making two clean breaks and beating one defender, while also affecting one turnover. Considering that the last time Kriel played a game of rugby was in Japan in mid May, when he received a red card for a dangerous clean-out, it was a noteworthy, if not spectacular outing.

The game, arguably, did not lend itself to Kriel truly stretching his legs, but the outside centre should get another opportunity to do so early Sunday morning, when the Boks play Argentina in the World Cup warm-up match.

Kriel will be joined by Lukhanyo Am and Andre Esterhuizen for the one-shot game – a good suggestion that the latter will be in the mix to be selected for the World Cup – while the safest bet of them all – Damian de Allende remains at home this week – not that it matters who plays in the midfield.

“It is great to play with any of the centres in the squad,” said Kriel.

“The four of us are so close. We really work well together, and I think anyone at any time can play as a combination.

“We all feed off each other’s energy and experience. Whether Damian or Lukhanyo are playing, or Andre and Lukhanyo, or Andre and myself, or Damian and myself, I think it doesn’t really matter.

“They guys are all there for the same thing. For the same goal.

“The guys have put in big performances. It keeps our standards as centres high and contributes to the team with and without the ball.”

“We train with all these combinations in training,” he added.

“Guys are slotting in all the time in different positions. You take a guy like Damian Willemse (who also travelled to Argentina as a utility-back), he could have come on at 10, 12, 13, 15 or wing tonight and he is comfortable in all of those positions.

“He trains in those positions during the week. A guy like Lukhanyo trained on the wing this week, and trained at 13.

“So, guys are comfortable in those positions, and I think going into a World Cup, you need experience and versatility in positions.

“It is great for us. We are really lucky as a squad to have the quality and class of the players that we do that can come onto the field and make an impact like the guys did tonight,” he concluded.

The Boks left early Sunday morning in a rush for Buenos Aires, but will have plenty of time to contemplate their performances on the flight there. Kick-off for the game will be 12.10am on Sunday morning.