Jesse Kriel’s meteoric rise on the international rugby scene makes him one of the most exciting prospects at next week’s World Cup.
The 21 year old is seen as the long term successor to Willie Le Roux but with the 2014 IRB World player of the year nominee being one of the first names on the team sheet, Kriel will have to settle for any position head coach Heyneke Meyer gives him.
Kriel made his debut against Australia in this year’s Rugby Championship and didn’t disappoint. He was handed the number 13 jersey and we couldn’t help but applaud his individuality as he stepped his way in field before turning on the afterburners to leave Nick Phipps for dead, 25 metres out, to score his first Springbok try.
Better yet, one week later it was déjà vu with Kriel once more showing his raw potential – again from 25 metres out. Kriel took a short line off Handré Pollard to go straight through the All Black defence and dot down his second try in two games.
However, the main concern for this youngster is his unpredictability. Although this can be seen as a positive to rugby fans who love to see risks being taken, it comes as a worry to coaches. Especially Heyneke Meyer, who believes that the key to this year’s World Cup will be the amount of experience he has in his team. If Jean De Villiers is fit for the first test against Japan, there is no doubt that he will take the outside centre position to regain some confidence and be brought back up to speed. So what does this mean for Kriel?
We can see that Meyer wants him in his plans this year; he even went as far as putting the Blue Bulls youngster on the wing against Argentina, in their final test in The Rugby Championship. Although South Africa were embarrassed on their home soil, Kriel showed us his versatility, adapting to the right wing and even assisting Willie Le Roux by making a half break and off-loading to the electrifying full back.
Le Roux was also excited to see Kriel play his first game on the wing. Prior to the Argentina game he was interviewed on Kriel’s switch to no.14 and said
“The back three is very important to our side. We work together… Jesse is a great player and I can’t wait to play with him on the wing. It helps me a lot. If I’m not at the back, maybe he’s there and he can help me”.
The big question is will Meyer take the risk of putting a young, inexperienced and out of position player on his right wing? JP Pietersen is the safest option to fill those boots, but something more is needed if South Africa are going to lift the Webb Ellis for the third time in their history. We think that Kriel would be the number one utility back substitute if Meyer was to play the safe card in Pietersen. At this moment in time and especially after Meyer stated the importance of his experienced players, Kriel could be could be the Boks’ trick up their sleeve, covering the backline from the bench. If push comes to shove and there is no spark on the pitch, who better to bring on then the exhilarating, slick handed youngster?
There hasn’t been an awful lot said about the Springboks in the build up to the main event, mainly because of their lacklustre results in The Rugby Championship. For South Africa, a favourable draw in the pool stages hands them the chance to try new things and get creative, while securing top spot. This gives Kriel an opportunity to gain more international test experience. Come the quarter finals, Kriel could be seen as a certain starter in the back line, rather than a risk. The question remains, where in the backline?