Kriel back at just the right time for Lions
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What once looked like a potential problem area for the Lions could now become one of the team’s strongest departments.
The acquisition in recent weeks of Willem Alberts and Jaco Kriel from overseas clubs means the Lions all of a sudden have a deep pool of loose-forwards to pick from in this year’s Super Rugby competition.
New head coach Ivan van Rooyen would have been a concerned man in the latter stages of last year when he found out that experienced campaigners Warren Whiteley (injury) and Kwagga Smith (Japan) wouldn’t be available for the Lions this year.
Cyle Brink, comfortable in all three back-row positions, was also ruled out of this year’s campaign after picking up a serious injury in a pre-season game.
Fast forward a few weeks and the Lions all of a sudden look healthier than ever in their back-row options.
The two former Lions men - Alberts, 35, and Kriel, 30, return from Stade Francais and Gloucester respectively, and will give Van Rooyen plenty to think about over the course of the coming weeks.
Alberts will be considered at eighthman and blindside flank, but also at lock, while Kriel is a specialist openside flank.
Going into the new Super Rugby season, the Lions were thin in experience in the loose-forward department with Hacjivah Dayimani (22), Vincent Tshituka (21), Len Massyn (22) and Ruan Vermaak (21) yet to cement their places in the senior side.
Openside flanker Marnus Schoeman, 30, would by some distance have been the Lions’ most senior loose-forward had Kriel and Alberts not opted to return to Joburg.
While Lions fans will be pleased to see Kriel and Alberts back in the red and white jersey, they may have to wait a little longer to see them in action.
Kriel is recovering from ankle surgery and is unlikely to play until at least March, while it is understood Alberts could have a troublesome shoulder.
Kriel, in announcing his return to the Lions - whom he left in 2018 to join former Lions boss Johan Ackermann at Gloucester - said he had missed the Lions boys.
“I’m on my way to my new job,” said Kriel in a social media video post recorded in his car yesterday morning.
“I’ve rejoined the Lions for the next three years and it feels good to be home.
“This is the start of a new journey for me ... I missed the boys.”
The Lions are back at home following their first round defeat by the Jaguares in Buenos Aires on Sunday and looking to bounce back when they host the Reds at Ellis Park in Johannesburg on Saturday afternoon.
Experienced fullback Andries Coetzee, who returned to Joburg last week after a short stint playing in Japan, will come into the selection mix this week, while Springbok scrumhalf Ross Cronje could also return after a lengthy spell on the sidelines.
Cronje will be assessed throughout the week to determine his match readiness.
Meanwhile, the only injury concern following the match in Argentina is to scrumhalf Andre Warner, who scored the Lions’ only try against the Jaguares but picked up an ankle sprain.