It was not a case of disrespect to De Villiers, the 2013 SA Rugby Player of the Year, but the midfield has been an encouraging success story of the Boks’ season thus far, two defeats notwithstanding.
Well, Bok coach coach Heyneke Meyer has come up with a master stroke that is a workable compromise to the problem of how you fit three centres into two positions. You don’t, but you can move one of them to another position and it is Kriel that moves to wing for De Villiers’ return at 13, with Cornal Hendricks ultimately the only back to drop out of the backline that started against the All Blacks a fortnight ago.
It had been intimated that veteran Fourie du Preez would make his comeback from injury at scrumhalf, and that Patrick Lambie would get an opportunity at 10 because of the concussion cloud shrouding Handre Pollard, only for Du Preez to pull up lame at yesterday’s training session, his knee still not right, and for Pollard to pass the regulation concussion tests.
Meyer, his thoughts very much on winning Saturday’s Test and to heck with World Cup preparations right now, admitted he had gone for continuity wherever he could in the team in the interests of getting the Boks back to winning ways after four defeats in their last six matches.
With Du Preez crocked once more, and De Villiers coming back at 13, Meyer said that it was vital that he kept intact the 9, 10, 12 axis of Ruan Pienaar, Pollard and De Allende while keeping going an in-form player in Kriel.
There had been much speculation that Kriel might get a run at fullback, his Super Rugby position for the Bulls, but Meyer pointed out that Kriel has limitations at fullback that could be exposed at international level – his clearance kicking – especially by a Pumas team that love the box kick, while incumbent fullback Willie le Roux is showing signs of returning to his best form, and Meyer does not want to interrupt that momentum.
In the forwards, the return to fitness of Marcell Coetzee from a knee knock sustained against Australia in Brisbane means a recall for the Shark for injured Francois Louw, although Heinrich Brusouw will continue at openside and Coetee will fit into his old role of bruising blindsider.
The second row combination of Eben Etzebeth and Lood de Jager, another highlight of the performance against New Zealand at Ellis Park, continues and the enforced change in the front row is at tighthead where Vincent Koch has been passed fit after a rib injury to replace Jannie du Plessis (knee ligaments).
That is just as well because Koch’s Stormers teammates, Frans Malherbe and Steven Kitshoff, have rejoined Du Preez on the injured list and Marcell van der Merwe has been recalled as prop cover alongside Trevor Nyakane.
There are other interesting developments on the bench, with Pieter-Steph du Toit back from nine months of injury, with Flip van der Merwe dropping out, Stomers flanker Siya Kolisi recalled and the Sharks’ Lwazi Mvovo has been brought in as backline cover at the expense of Lionel Mapoe.
Meyer said that it has been a difficult decision to break up the midfield combination that has done so well, but that it cannot be disputed that the Boks need De Villiers’ strong leadership at the World Cup.
“Damian and Jesse were brilliant together, but Jean has been managed well and is ready to play again and is very important to us, not just on the field but off it as well,” said .the coach.
“Jean is desperate to win the World Cup for his country and that determination rubs off on the other players.
“At the same time I know that Jesse is a dark horse for the World Cup, and might find himself thrust into an important role there, so I want him and Damian to get as much game time as possible.”
Meyer said his decision to pay Kriel on the wing had been influenced by his observations of international trends.
“Leading teams are now playing two fullbacks in their back three. One of the reasons we lost against the All Blacks was because of poor fielding of the high ball in the last minutes, and that is one thing that Jesse is really good at.”
15 Willie le Roux, 14 Jesse Kriel, 13 Jean de Villiers (capt), 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Handré Pollard, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Schalk Burger, 7 Marcell Coetzee, 6 Heinrich Brüssow, 5 Lood de Jager, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Vincent Koch, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Beast Mtawarira. Bench: 16 Adriaan Strauss, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 Marcel van der Merwe, 19 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 20 Siya Kolisi, 21 Cobus Reinach, 22 Pat Lambie, 23 Lwazi Mvovo. - Cape Times
Original source: Meyer explains Kriel switch