Jaco Kriel happy to be home
The 30-year-old flank followed Ackermann to Gloucester in England in 2018 after the two had formed a close bond while involved with the Lions between 2011 and 2017.
But a longing for “home” forced Kriel to make the hard decision of giving up his contract with Gloucester and return to the Lions, whom he’ll play for over the next three years.
“Myself and coach Ackers had a long chat, and I told him I had to go to where I would be happy,” Kriel explained yesterday.
“He said we’d be lifelong friends, and he wanted me to be happy and the best rugby player I could be. He said if I felt the best thing was to move back to the Lions he’d let me go. He said there were no hard feelings.
“I really missed home, I missed my dad, my family and the Lions.
“I had a lot of injuries during my time at Gloucester and they kindly said I could leave. It was a great experience and I’m glad I went over otherwise I’d always wonder what if ... it was a good experience, but it’s good to be back.”
Kriel is currently recovering from ankle surgery, done in December, is likely to only play for the Lions in March or April.
“I have to take it easy at the moment because the injury is a fragile one,” said the former Bok flank.
“I’ve started running on a special treadmill, but I’ve got to be careful.”
He said things had changed a bit in the Lions team since he was last a part of it.
Gone are several of the players he played with in the Super Rugby runners-up teams of 2016, 2017 and 2018.
“There are a lot of new guys in the mix, but I do know most of them, having worked with them when they were in the junior ranks here at the union.
“The DNA of the Lions though hasn’t changed ... everyone still works hard, never gives up and makes sure the effort can never be faulted.”
Kriel will invariably come into the captaincy-picture when he returns to action, but he said that was the furthest thing from his mind right now.
“The leadership of the team was mentioned in the discussions (around my return), but let’s not forget I have had very little game-time in the last two years (20 games for Gloucester) and all I want to do is get on the field and play,” said Kriel.
“I just want to get going again and if the Lions feel I’m the right candidate to lead the side I’d be happy to, but I don’t want it to be forced on me.
“I still have to earn it ... and earn the respect of the players.”
After suffering a first round defeat to the Jaguares in Buenos Aires last weekend, the Lions face the Reds at Ellis Park this weekend.
Kriel said the players were ready to make amends for the loss in Argentina.
“The result wasn’t a good one for the camp but the youngsters would have learned from the experience.
“We don’t have a good track record down there, it’s never easy, but the boys are keen to rectify what happened there here at home this weekend.”