Lions not taking any chances in Kriel's recovery
Former Springbok flank Jaco Kriel is likely to go straight back into Super Rugby action in two weeks’ time after missing out on playing in a friendly game in Durban this Friday.
The former Lions player who featured for Gloucester in England in 2018 and 2019, returned to his old team earlier this year, but has been sidelined with an ankle injury in recent weeks. He underwent surgery last December and then requested a release from Gloucester.
Kriel, who has been working hard to regain full fitness, was expected to play for a Lions XV against a Sharks team in a friendly in Durban on Friday, but he will no longer feature in that game. The Lions said on Wednesday that the 30-year-old “will sit this one out as no chances will be taken with his road to recovery.”
Kriel is thus likely to move straight into the Super Rugby team when they return from their four-match tour of Australasia, following the games against the Blues this weekend and the Highlanders next week. They have already played against, and lost to, the Waratahs and Rebels.
With news coming out on Tuesday that Cyle Brink is no longer a Lions player - he is set to join Leicester - and former captain Warren Whiteley injured and now involved in coaching, the Lions are desperate to get some experience into their pack, and back-row. Willem Alberts, also a former Lions man, has however, like Kriel, also returned to Joburg, from France, while the Lions are also in talks with Kwagga Smith to get him back from Japan.
If all goes well, Kriel will run out for the Lions when they are next in action in South Africa, against the Chiefs, at Ellis Park, on March 28.
It seems a few other Lions stalwarts will be also be back in two weeks’ time for that game, among them scrumhalf Ross Cronje and flyhalf Gianni Lombard, both of whom are now over their long-term injuries.
Lombard’s return will especially be welcome. The young No 10 ruptured knee ligaments at the end of April last year and has been sidelined for almost 12 months. He is likely to get around 20 minutes in the Sharks game in Durban and also included in the group is flank Roelof Smit, the former Bulls man, who joined the Lions at the end of last year, but has yet to play for his new team.
The Lions’ immediate focus though is on this weekend’s round seven Super Rugby match against the Blues, in Auckland - a team that are on the up in 2020. They have won four of six games so far and lie third in the New Zealand Conference.
Leon MacDonald’s team have been particularly dangerous with ball in hand and wing Mark Telea has been one of their stars, with five tries in six matches. Fellow wing Joe Marchant, fullback Stephen Perofeta and centre Rieko Ioane have also been in good form.
The Lions, who’ve conceded a whopping 21 tries in their five games, know they will have to be sharper defensively if they’re to have any chance of registering just a second win this year in Auckland.
“We’re way over the goals that we set as a defensive team,” said Lions defence coach Sean Erasmus from Auckland.
“We’re working hard on the issues in the system to be better, to not concede so many tries. Obviously the spacing (in the backline) needs to be addressed, to get more width, because a lot of teams are going wide nowadays.”
He added the Blues’ backs would pose a big threat to the Lions. “They have some exciting players on the edges and they’re sure to play to their strengths.”@jacq_west