Springbok Jaco Kriel back in Lions’ number 6 jersey for URC opener against Zebre
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“You can feel the influence,” said Ivan van Rooyen, “you can feel the Jaco Kriel of old. Just having him a part of this team is a massive honour. He has been bubbling around, jumping around in team sessions, it is nice to have him back.”
After nine months of being out of sight, although not so much out of mind, the Springbok flanker will start on Friday for the Emirates Lions against Zebre in their opening United Rugby Championship (kick-off 6.35pm) in Parma, Italy. Kriel has not played since January, when the Lions lost to the Bulls in the Currie Cup semi-final.
It will then be a welcome return for the union and supporters alike, to see the team legend in action again and there will no doubt be much hope that the 32-year-old veteran will add much needed level-headedness and maturity to the a loose-forward unit, which also includes Francke Horn at eighthman and Vincent Tshituka at blindside.
According to Van Rooyen, it is expected that Kriel will be able to put in a solid 40 to 50 minute shift as he continues his recovery to full match fitness, but his contribution could be invaluable with regards to becalming the pack when required but also driving them forward on attack and at the breakdown.
Elsewhere, Pumas captain and loan Pieter Jansen van Rensburg will perform a similar role in the second row, while pairing up with Ruben Schoeman. Springbok Ruan Dreyer, meanwhile, will pack down alongside Jaco Visagie and Carlu Sadie, with loose-head prop Sti Sithole on the bench to ease him back into the team after injury.
In every other position, the starting XV reveals a familiar and settled side that certainly has all the qualities to be match-winners, but must now rediscover their form and confidence.
The Italian-outfit will also be the first outing for the Lions’ new look coaching unit.
Alongside head coach Van Rooyen and scrum coach Julian Redelinghuys, Albert van den Berg (forwards and line-out coach), Ricardo Laubscher (backline, attack and skills coach) and Jaque Fourie (defence coach) have been working hard this past fortnight to get the Joburgers back to winning ways.
“It is awesome having Jaque, Albert and Ricardo; Julian is still here,” said Van Rooyen.
“I think they bring confidence, calmness and a massive work ethic. They have been working here until midnight, making sure they are giving us as much possible information; making sure that not only the coaching staff but the team have got the correct information in the simplest form.
“What I have enjoyed about the sessions," Van Rooyen continued, "is that they are flat out. There is intensity with that clarity and simplicity. (We are) really enjoying the first two weeks together. It’s been good, hard, honest.”
Nevertheless, ‘The Pride’ should not expect too much deviation from the style of play and the gameplan on Friday night, as the new coaches are still in a process of adjusting to their new surrounds, while continuing to set out their vision to the players over the next few weeks, as pointed out by captain Burger Odendaal.
“Weve tried to keep it simple,” Odendaal explained, “so no massive changes.
"It is just subtle things we want to change and need to change. We don’t want to overcomplicate things. Once we get into the running of things again, then there might be a bit more changes.“
Emirates Lions starting XV: 15 EW Viljoen, 14 Jamba Ulengo, 13 Wandisile Simelane, 12 Burger Odendaal (capt), 11 Rabz Maxwane , 10 Jordan Hendrikse, 9 Andre Warner, 8 Francke Horn, 7 Vincent Tshituka, 6 Jaco Kriel, 5 Pieter Jansen van Vuren, 4 Ruben Schoeman, 3 Carlu Sadie, 2 Jaco Visagie, 1 Ruan Dreyer;
Replacements: 16 PJ Botha, 17 Sti Sithole, 18 Asenathi Ntlabakanye, 19 Reinhard Nothnagel, 20 Sibusiso Sangweni, 21 Morne van den Berg, 22 Eddie Fouche, 23 Divan Rossouw