THE dearth of centres at the peak of their powers in the national ranks has been addressed in the boldest possible way with the inclusion of Jesse Kriel for Saturday’s match against the World XV.
Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer could not stop singing the praises of the Bulls’ fullback, who will be in action in an inexperienced midfield axis that also contains Handre Pollard and Damian de Allende.
“Jesse is an unbelievably exciting player. I’ve always rated him,” Meyer said.
“When he was still under-20, we invited him to our camps and he slotted in at centre. I was very impressed. I first worked with as an under-19 and I thought his best position would be outside centre.
“He has unbelievable acceleration. I also like outside centres who can take the outside gap. It is something not a lot of players can do.
“I think he can become one of the greats and is probably one of the most talented players I’ve ever coached. I have a good feeling about Jesse.”
Meyer went on to liken Kriel’s versatility to that of Frans Steyn, perhaps without the petulance.
As expected, Warren Whiteley will replace Duane Vermeulen at No 8 for his first start in the green and gold, while Vincent Koch will feature in national colours for the first time as a substitute.
Schalk Burger only started training on Tuesday and will be eased in, meaning Marcell Coetzee partners Francois Louw on the side of the scrum.
Burger, according to Meyer, will also be considered for the No 8 position in Vermeulen’s absence.
Burger will be on the bench, where Meyer lacks personnel with game time.
Regular captain Jean de Villiers will also make his long-awaited return from the bench.
“He’ll probably come on in the last 20-25 minutes. We don’t want to push him too hard,” Meyer said.
The coach explained how De Villiers will be reintegrated. “He’ll play in the Currie Cup for Western Province against the Pumas and the next match.”
De Villiers is expected to return to the Bok ranks for the back-to-back tests against Argentina, but at Newlands on Saturday Victor Maftield will retain captaincy when the regular captain comes on.
Oupa Mohoje, another player short of a gallop, will provide lock cover from the bench, while Pat Lambie – who left the training field bloodied but thankfully unbowed on Tuesday – is also among the reserves.
Prop Steven Kitshoff is out for four weeks with a knee injury after an accident in training, while Jaque Fourie was sent back to Kobe to search for fitness and game time. “The door is still open for him to be selected,” Meyer again reminded.
The Springbok team is: Willie le Roux; JP Pietersen, Jesse Kriel, Damian de Allende, Bryan Habana; Handre Pollard, Ruan Pienaar; Warren Whiteley, Marcell Coetzee, Francois Louw; Victor Matfield (captain), Eben Etzebeth; Jannie du Plessis, Bismarck du Plessis, Tendai Mtawarira. Substitutes: Adriaan Strauss, Trevor Nyakane, Vincent Koch, Oupa Mohoje, Schalk Burger; Cobus Reinach, Pat Lambie, Jean de Villiers.