JOHANNESBURG – It became a staple of Lions play – the ranging marauder on the edges of the backline, the loose-forward with pace and power, a rose amongst the thorns calculating the space, pouncing on any perceived weakness, igniting running rugby, arousing the supporters, their voices shrill with excitement and anticipation.
For many a season that was one of Jaco Kriel’s defining characteristics as a player at the Lions: The loosie amongst the backs that charged at the gainline fearlessly, creating chances, making tries, concocting havoc on defence and chaos at the breakdown.
So it was no surprise that there was much fanfare earlier this year when Kriel was announced as returning to the fold. Kriel had previously sojourned to parts beyond, but a brief and injury-laden stint at Gloucester had stopped his momentum, precipitating a return to Johannesburg.
The 31-year-old finally completed that return for the Lions last week Friday against the Sharks after almost a year on the sidelines. Admittedly, Kriel was raring to go in April, but then the Covid-19 pandemic put paid to any comeback.
Last week’s first outing was perhaps not the most glorious of performances from Kriel, but that will not stop the Springbok flank from looking within himself with the conviction that he must improve every day, every week and every match, starting with the Stormers on Saturday.
Kriel admitted as much himself yesterday.
Said the flanker: “It was good to be back on the field. The Sharks are a quality side, so there were a bit of nerves and I’m still getting there. I was definitely not happy with my performance, so there is lots of work ahead.
“I believe one should focus on yourself first,” Kriel continued. “By that I mean I will be working hard on doing my basics right and serving the team, because if I fight an individual battle, it won’t work out too well for me.”
As a former Lions captain and one of the more experienced players in the team, Kriel now also occupies an important leadership role.
During the Sharks encounter, he and current skipper Elton Jantjies could be seen having a confab or two concerning what should be the best course of action. That aspect of his game will need to come to the fore again this weekend.
“Yes, we had a couple of discussions,” said Kriel of those moments. “It is an area where we can improve on our decision making.
“Elton has a lot on his plate and I want to help him wherever I can. It is an area where I must step up and be a leader for the younger guys, while making Elton’s hand stronger.”
The turnaround time to find such improvements is already short: A formidable Stormers squad awaits this weekend. With Kriel finally having tasted some action, and with the undoubted X-factor he can bring, the Lions, and their supporters will be hoping to see glimpses of the marauder in the wings once more.
Meanwhile, the Lions confirmed yesterday that scrumhalf Dillon Smit’s season is currently over after he required surgery to his left shoulder.
The No 9 sustained the injury during the first half against the Sharks. Early prognosis put his recovery between four to six months.