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