Jesse Kriel won’t just give up Springboks No 13 jersey to Lukhanyo Am

The Springboks’ Jesse Kriel tries to evade a tackle in the 2023 Rugby World Cup final against the All Blacks.

Jesse Kriel was magnificent for the Springboks at outside centre during last year’s Rugby World Cup in France. Picture: Anne-Christine Poujoulat / AFP

Published Mar 8, 2024


The Springboks’ first alignment camp of the year concluded in Cape Town yesterday, and the 43 players who were invited would have been eager to impress ahead of the juicy international calendar that kicks off in June with a Test against Wales in London.

Coach Rassie Erasmus invited a mixture of young and experienced players, and it is important to bear in mind that players based in Europe were unavailable.

“The keys of the alignment camps are to ensure that the players are on the same page in terms of standards required to perform at top international level, and to expose them to our way of doing things, and we are pleased that we achieved that in the last few days,” Erasmus said yesterday.

“The camp was invaluable both in terms of developing our structures for the next few seasons, and in getting the coaches and players to get to know one another better off the field, especially with the introduction of Jerry (Flannery), Tony (Brown) and Jaco (Peyper) to our coaching staff.

“The coaches and Jaco, as our national laws advisor, presented a broad outline of their plans to the players as a group on Wednesday and held a series of split forwards and backs sessions on Thursday, while we also presented the Springbok macro plan for the year, so we are happy with the foundation laid with a little over four months before we kick off the international season.

“I must give credit to the players for their enthusiasm and excitement to learn how we operate in the Springbok set-up, and for buying into our structures.

“We believe that the last two days will be invaluable in laying a good foundation for our next two alignment camps and the season ahead.”

SA Rugby said that the next two alignment camps will take place from May 1-3 and May 22-24 at venues to be confirmed.

On Thursday, IOL Sport looked at the outside backs who had the chance to state their case at the camp, and on Friday, we look at the centres ...

Erasmus’ first-choice No 12s Damian de Allende and André Esterhuizen, who are both based overseas, were unavailable, but veterans Jesse Kriel and Lukhanyo Am attended.

Lukhanyo Am

Am was an automatic choice at outside centre for the Boks for years, but an injury he picked up against Argentina last year ultimately prevented him from playing in the World Cup.

He was excluded from the squad, but later went to France to replace the injured Makazole Mapimpi. However, Am never got to play because of the red-hot form of Jesse Kriel.

Am is undoubtedly eager to reclaim his starting spot, and his competition with Kriel is going to be fascinating.

Jesse Kriel

The 2023 World Cup will be remembered by many as Kriel’s coming of age. He was first capped in 2015 as a 21-year-old, but has never been able to nail down a starting berth.

His versatility – he can play centre, wing and fullback – has made him a valuable squad member. However, he has also had decent periods of starting at No 13, notably in the Allister Coetzee era (2016-2017).

Kriel moved into the starting line-up when Am was injured in Buenos Aires on August 5 last year, and started in the pre-World Cup friendly against Wales.

He scored two tries and his good form continued right through the World Cup.

Kriel is not going to give the No 13 jersey back to Am without a fight.

Henco van Wyk

The Lions centre is much like Kriel in that he is an aggressive, direct runner. Many fans were hoping that he would go up against Am in last week’s match at Ellis Park between the Lions and the Sharks, but Am was following Bok resting protocols.

As it turned out, Van Wyk left the field injured, and would have been unable to participate in any field sessions of the alignment camp.

But Erasmus sees the 22-year-old as one for the future, given that Kriel and Am are both 30.

Other Possibilities

Four players at the camp could play in the midfield if required, although they are specialists elsewhere in the backline.

We know Damian Willemse can play anywhere in the backline, but the Stormers’ talented youngster, Sacha Feinberg-Mngomezulu, is likewise at home at centre or flyhalf.

Canan Moodie has started for the Boks at No 13, but is primarily a wing, and Suleiman Hartzenberg is another exciting prospect at wing or centre.

IOL Sport