Cape Town — While Jesse Kriel’s selection at right wing for Saturday’s second Test against the All Blacks was expected, it doesn’t make it the correct one.
And that statement is not meant as a slight on Kriel at all. We know that the 28-year-old will give his all, and is usually in top physical shape as well.
But Kriel is a specialist outside centre who could do a job at fullback as well, where he played earlier in his career.
The problem is that he is not a wing. Yes, he will do a solid job in defence, and I’m sure part of coach Jacques Nienaber’s thinking in bringing him in to replace the suspended Kurt-Lee Arendse is to mark giant All Black wing Caleb Clarke, while his experience of over 50 Test matches will be handy as well when the pressure is on at Ellis Park.
But for me, the impact Arendse (and the injured Cheslin Kolbe) makes with ball-in-hand and in chasing kicks will be dearly missed on Saturday.
That is why I feel that Warrick Gelant, and even Willie le Roux, would have been better options than Kriel in the No 14 jersey this weekend.
In fact Bulls stars Madosh Tambwe and Canan Moodie and Stormers flyer Seabelo Senatla would have been appropriate specialist replacements, but it is difficult to bring them in this week and start them immediately.
Just like Arendse and Kolbe, Gelant is able to spark something out of nothing when he has the ball in his hands. He enjoyed a wonderful season with the United Rugby Championship-winning Stormers, and his on-field partnership with fellow Capetonian Damian Willemse at fullback is another plus.
Gelant is also used to chasing up-and-unders and contesting for the high ball as he is a specialist fullback, while he won’t take a backward step in defence against Clarke either.
If not Gelant, then Le Roux could have filled in as well. He started his Test career in the No 14 jersey, and is also able to handle the “bombs” in the air. And although he may not possess the pace he had previously, Le Roux seems rejuvenated in 2022 and has the skills to create on attack.
Kriel is more of a safety-first choice, and that could be detrimental to the Boks’ pressure game that forced the All Blacks into making mistakes at Mbombela Stadium last week. It’s not just about box-kicks, but also how the South Africans took the initiative at times and challenged the Kiwis out wide and up the middle and Arendse played a key part in that approach.
It is also a bit of a surprise to see Duane Vermeulen come straight back into the starting line-up, after he last played in Ulster’s URC semi-final loss to the Stormers on 11 June.
Maybe coming on off the bench could have been a better way of easing him back into the action, with Evan Roos starting. Jasper Wiese was an eager ball-carrier against Wales and New Zealand, but his lack of subtleties required of a No 8 has been evident.
Nienaber made an interesting call to bring in Joseph Dweba at hooker for the injured Bongi Mbonambi, after Malcolm Marx’s man-of-the-match display in his 50th Test last week.
Dweba hasn’t had much game time at Test level, so this is an opportunity for the new Stormers signing to prove that he should continue to be chosen ahead of outstanding Bulls No 2 Johan Grobbelaar.
15 Damian Willemse 14 Jesse Kriel 13 Lukhanyo Am 12 Damian de Allende 11 Makazole Mapimpi 10 Handre Pollard 9 Jaden Hendrikse 8 Duane Vermeulen 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit 6 Siya Kolisi (captain) 5 Lood de Jager 4 Eben Etzebeth 3 Frans Malherbe 2 Joseph Dweba 1 Ox Nche
Bench: 16 Malcolm Marx 17 Steven Kitshoff 18 Vincent Koch 19 Franco Mostert 20 Jasper Wiese 21 Kwagga Smith 22 Herschel Jantjies 23 Willie le Roux