Springbok utility back Jesse Kriel has implored the South African public to still believe in the national team because the squad themselves are still positive, despite their dreadful results on a torrid European tour.
“The mood is still good in the squad, I know people have been really hurt by the results, but the team has always been positive. They’re still putting their bodies on the line and there are just small things in terms of the game-plan and individual errors that we need to get right,” Kriel said at the Bulls player awards evening, having returned early from the Springbok tour due to a leg injury.
“No-one accepts losing but there have just been small things, little errors, that have led to the Springboks being up against it. For us, winning matches is our pride and joy, our bread and butter, so it’s been difficult for us. We’ve learnt a lot out of this, but there comes a point when you can’t learn anymore, you have to actually start winning.
“Allister has chosen a new-look side for this weekend and it’s a great opportunity for the younger guys who are really hungry, a great opportunity for them to go out and prove they belong there. And having the overseas players back was a massive positive as well, they bring experience and calm heads,” Kriel said.
And captain and Bulls team-mate Adriaan Strauss, who will be playing in his 66th and final Test against Wales, was singled out for special praise by the 22-year-old.
“I just wish people could see behind the scenes because Adriaan has done so much and he never wants any credit or recognition. He’s very humble and full of selflessness and always puts his body on the line, even though I know he has a very sore back at the moment. I can assure people he’s not just selected because he’s captain. I know it would be the last thing Adriaan wants for the team to make this weekend’s game about him, but everyone has so much respect for him that the guys will want to,” Kriel said.
Kriel has now played 16 Tests and 31 Super Rugby matches and is eager to play more of a leadership role himself next year.
“I spoke to Nollis Marais [Bulls coach] and I told him I want to be a big part of the team, I want to contribute a lot to the team. So I want to start the year with no niggles and be in top condition. I still have to chat to the coach about where he wants to play me, but I think it will be fullback, where I started two years ago. I don’t mind that and there’s a lot of competition in the backline, so I have to prove my worth.
“When I started playing for the Bulls, a guy like Victor Matfield was still around and there was a lot of experience in the side, guys you could look up to when things were not going well. I’ve got to be one of those players now when things don’t go well because I’ve got a bit of experience now.
“But it all comes down to performance, we’ve been building a good team and it’s time to get back the glory years. We all get sick of hearing the word ‘building’, we must get results now and trophies, that is what we all want. Talk is cheap and money buys the whiskey.”