Lions flanker Jaco Kriel must at least be one of the names pen­cilled in on na­tional coach Meyer’s Europe list

CityPress - - Sport - DAN RETIEF dan.retief@city­ tand­ing out from the crowd in a coun­try boast­ing some of the finest loose for­wards in world rugby is dif­fi­cult, but that is ex­actly what Lions flanker Jaco Kriel has done. Photo: Back­pagepix

de vivre that is pal­pa­ble when you watch the Lions play. And it is their team spirit – hard work on the train­ing field and the back­ing of their coaches to strive for the ex­trav­a­gant – that has car­ried them to im­prob­a­bly big vic­to­ries (like the 50-20 over the Sharks in the semi­fi­nal), where other teams might have be­come dis­cour­aged.

The in­flu­ence of for­mer All Blacks coach John Mitchell is still dis­cernible, given New Zealand rugby’s love of the ball-in-hand game. But what the Lions have done with their team of no-name-brand play­ers (their phrase not mine) – mainly those un­able to get con­tracts at other unions or those com­ing back from in­jury – has shown up the folly of the kick-as-the-first-op­tion morass into which South African rugby had fallen.

They have worked on their skills; they have been en­cour­aged to scan the field con­stantly for op­por­tu­ni­ties; they have been drilled to kick ju­di­ciously and, most of all, to run in support; and they have been taught to pro­vide back up and to an­tic­i­pate that a team-mate may sud­denly at­tack.

This has been the key dif­fer­ence made by the Lions – an at­ti­tude alert to de­cep­tion, guile and dar­ing, and an un­der­stand­ing that suc­cess­ful run­ning rugby is of­ten not about the man car­ry­ing the ball but about the man who may next re­ceive it.

And rugby played like that can be a beauty, cre­at­ing a game of in­fi­nite pos­si­bil­i­ties.

SGo­ing into yes­ter­day’s Absa Cur­rie Cup fi­nal at New­lands, the Lions’ num­ber 6 was the top try scorer in the 2014 com­pe­ti­tion, with nine tries, and his must at least be one of the names pen­cilled in on na­tional coach Heyneke Meyer’s list, which will be an­nounced to­day, of the squad to tour Europe.

Dr Danie Craven used to say: “Give me a flanker who scores tries and I’ll have him in my team any day.” Kriel has cer­tainly obliged on that score by best­ing the three-quarters who nor­mally top the tryscor­ing charts.

His ninth try of the tour­na­ment, after a ram­pag­ing 50-me­tre run against the Sharks in the semi­fi­nal at El­lis Park, is among the nom­i­na­tions for Try of the Sea­son, but it is not just the flashy stuff that has caught the eye.

Kriel is amaz­ingly strong on his feet and dif­fi­cult to bring down, he has a keen an­tic­i­pa­tion of the flow of the game, a good sense of space and ex­cep­tional pace to en­able him to make the in­cur­sions that played such a big role in sink­ing the Sharks in the semi­fi­nal.

The sturdy break­away was taken off at half-time to al­low the Lions’ med­i­cal team to start nurs­ing a tweaked ham­string ahead of the fi­nal, but by then the foun­da­tion for vic­tory had been laid.

The irony would not have been lost on some of the Sharks’ back-up staff be­cause in 2013 a chance was lost to get Kriel into the black-and-white rather than the Lions’ red-and-white.

Last sea­son, when the Lions were ex­cluded from the Su­per Rugby tour­na­ment, Kriel and full­back An­dries Coet­zee were sent on loan to King’s Park when the Sharks ran into se­ri­ous in­jury prob­lems, but un­like Western Prov­ince, which signed Jaco Taute and tried

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