CAPE TOWN – He’s played 33 Test matches already, but Jesse Kriel may be facing the biggest challenge of his Springbok career on Saturday.
Not only are the Boks under tremendous pressure to save face after two consecutive Rugby Championship defeats, they also have to do it against the mighty All Blacks at the Westpac Stadium in Wellington (9.35am kickoff).
Against that backdrop, Kriel battled to get going against the Wallabies last week, with his failed kick-pass to Aphiwe Dyantyi going into touch.
Kriel would’ve been better off just passing the ball through the hands, but the incident encapsulated the Bok effort on attack in Brisbane.
And on Saturday, the 24-year-old Bulls back has been shifted to No 14 from centre by coach Rassie Erasmus due to Makazole Mapimpi’s injury – and he has to face the hottest wing in world rugby, Rieko Ioane…
The Blues superstar has already notched up 16 tries in just 17 Tests, and dotted down in both games against the Boks last year.
“He is obviously a great player, a world-class player, so I think all of us want to be up against the best every weekend. And I think that’s what’s Test rugby is all about, so really excited,” Kriel said from Wellington on Thursday.
“I think in Super Rugby, he also played a bit of centre as well, so he’s got the complete skill-set. He’s dangerous with ball-in-hand – strike runner, really good with ball-in-hand, like I said.
“He’s a good player, so really excited about the match-up this weekend. But we obviously want to focus on getting things right. We just want to go out there and convert the opportunities that we didn’t convert in the last two games.
“If we had taken three chances in each game, I think the results could’ve looked a lot different.”
Kriel has two Bok caps at wing, so he has experience of playing out wide.
Perhaps getting out of the stressful outside centre berth will free him up a bit, as he does possess the pace and size to be a threat with ball-in-hand himself.
“Yeah, I’m really excited actually (about playing at wing). I’ve played there before – obviously not as much as centre – but I’m really excited about the opportunity. Always special to play for the Springboks. A new challenge here in New Zealand, which you guys are all looking forward to,” he said.
The more things change, the more they stay the same 🙌🏼 pic.twitter.com/IvNJ03jt6o
While the All Blacks can also unleash Damian McKenzie off the bench, Kriel said Cheslin Kolbe can play a similar role for the Boks.
“(McKenzie) is a really exciting player with ball-in-hand. He brings a lot of tempo to the game, likes to take the ball to the line, and he opens up a lot of space for everyone else,” he said.
“For us, it will be just about sticking to our backline defensive systems, and putting pressure on them. But then we’ve got a guy like Cheslin Kolbe coming off the bench who is just as dangerous as him.
“Both teams have great guys coming off the bench, and it’s going to be great to watch.”