CAPE TOWN (Reuters) - South Africa coach Heyneke Meyer is a firm believer that experience will win the Springboks the World Cup, but in youngster Jesse Kriel he has found a talent too good to ignore.
The 21-year-old has been one of the few highlights for the Springboks in an otherwise disappointing international season leading up to the World Cup.
Kriel's counter-attacking style, combining electric pace with slick, innovative handling, create danger for opponents from the most innocuous situations, adding much-needed unpredictability to the Boks' attack.
Though Kriel was used as a fullback by the Bulls during the Super Rugby season, Boks' coach Meyer believes his best position is outside centre. Kriel filled the No.13 jersey against Australia and New Zealand in this year’s Rugby Championship, scoring superb solo tries in both games before being shifted to the wing for the surprise defeat against Argentina.
If regular captain Jean de Villiers is fit for the knockout stages of the tournament, Kriel is likely to be the one to sit out. However, the youngster's versatility means that he can have an impact on the game from just about anywhere in the backline.
Kriel feels that fullback is his best position. But with Willie le Roux the incumbent, he will have to bide his time and contribute wherever Meyer sees fit.
"I do enjoy fullback and I'd say it's my preferred position. I enjoy the space one gets. But I also enjoy my time at centre," Kriel told reporters. "I love making a contribution on attack and having more time with ball in hand."
Kriel, whose twin brother Dan also plays for the Bulls, was first spotted by Meyer as a schoolboy.
“I’ve worked with Jesse before as a junior and I played a part in him joining the Bulls after school,” Meyer said.
“He has great speed and his acceleration off the mark can be a big threat in attack. He has the potential to be the best outside centre South Africa has ever produced.”
Meyer is likely to go with experience in the key matches at the World Cup, but in Kriel he has a potential game breaker - wherever the young flyer is used.
Editing by David Goodman