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Springboks explain why they are revisiting a shelved 2018 tactic

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Anthony Au-Yeung/Getty Images)

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Springboks boss Jacques Nienaber has explained the logic behind the decision to revisit a selection plan they had to abandon in 2018 regarding Jesse Kriel, the 27-year-old whose inclusion in next Saturday’s team to face Wales is one of three changes from the XV that last month defeated the All Blacks. More typically known as a midfielder, Kriel has been named on the right wing to take on the Welsh after Sbu Nkosi was delayed travelling to the UK due to a need to have the necessary paperwork.

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Kriel won the last of his 48 Springboks caps in August versus Argentina, going on to be an unused squad member during the recent four-match leg of the Rugby Championship which took place in Australia. Despite being without involvement in any sort of a match in more than eleven weeks, Nienaber has decided the time is now right to not only include Kriel to face Wales but to also select him in a position he was last chosen in versus the All Blacks in Wellington in September 2018. 

The coach is looking forward to seeing what now unfolds more than three years later in a selection that sees Damian Willemse at full-back for Willie le Roux due to rotation and Herschel Jantjies at scrum-half in place of the injured Faf de Klerk.

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“Jesse has played on the wing for us before so it is not an experiment,” insisted Nienaber about Kriel after confirming his Springboks XV to take on a Welsh team hurting from last Saturday’s hammering by the All Blacks. “We know that he can do it for us. He did it for us against the All Blacks in Wellington in 2018 – he started for us on the wing.

“Then with the rotation that we made at 15, Jesse is nice for us in terms of bringing some organisational skills, some experience in terms of almost 50 Test caps. Rotating a guy like Willie with 70 Test caps does leave an opportunity for someone with experience and that is the reason why we decided to put Jesse in there.

“Jesse has trained well with us over the last couple of weeks that we have been together. With Damian, we always as a team want to develop, want to win, want to transform and want to create squad depth and this is an ideal opportunity for us to get some experience into guys in this end-of-year tour with a view to continuing to win.” Reflecting on why Kriel hasn’t played as the Springboks No14 since 2018, Nienaber added: “It was something that we spoke about (doing more) back then. We selected him at 14 for that Test match but then Lukhanyo broke his arm and the guy who was benching for Jesse in that Test match was Cheslin (Kolbe). 

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“Jesse moved into 13 with Lukhanyo departing with his injury and then Cheslin came on and from then on Jesse played 13 for the majority of that year and Cheslin started cementing himself in that 14 position. We didn’t have an opportunity then after that. 

“We took Jesse to the World Cup and we probably would have given him some opportunity there as well but in the first Test match against New Zealand he injured himself and that took him out of the rest of the World Cup. It was something that we spoke about (doing again) but it just didn’t materialise.”

Next Saturday will be just the fourth start for 23-year Willemse and rather than being upset at losing the No15 shirt, Nienaber reported that le Roux is helping the rookie full-back to make a success of his young rival’s inclusion. “Every player brings something different and when we announced the team to the players we said Willie has played the majority of the Tests since we came back in 2018 and we know what we have in Willie.

“I said if we had to play a World Cup final on the weekend we would probably select Willie because of his experience, because of what he has done for us in the past. This is the ideal situation to give Damian an opportunity. We haven’t given him an extended opportunity (in the past) where he can play and settle himself into the full-back position. 

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“We said to Willie, please help us develop him and Aphelele (Fassi, another rookie 23-year-old). It is a little side project and Willie is feeding as much information as he can into them. But in saying that Aphelele, Damian and Willie, they are different players, different X-factors, different skill sets… they have to bring their own specialness to the game.”

Meanwhile, de Klerk’s injury-enforced absence always meant there was a vacancy at No9. However, rather than pair Cobus Reinach with Handre Pollard, his Montpellier club colleague, Nienaber looked instead to Jantjies, a scrum-half who has only started twice before for the Springboks.  

“Herschel is probably in the same bracket as Damian. It is a nice opportunity for us to get Herschel a bit of a run starting. We know what we have in Cobus, we know what we have in Faf and Herschel has been training well and has done really well if you think of the games Faf got injured. For us, it is a nice opportunity to develop the game-driving skill set in starting for us. That is the nice thing of having Herschel and Cobus here.”

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