Lions flank Jaco Kriel has had a dreadful run of injuries over the past few years, which has stopped what was a very promising career in its tracks, which had culminated in him making his Springbok debut in 2016.
However since then he has played very little rugby due to a raft of unfortunate injuries that has not allowed him to reach his full potential, but he is finally putting that difficult period of his career behind him as he slowly makes a comeback for the Lions in the United Rugby Championship.
“It has been a really tough three or four years of injuries, I had four surgeries during this time period, so it’s great to finally get an opportunity to play again,” said Kriel.
“I will give everything to the team and the rest will follow, with regular game time good form usually follows.
“It is a gradual process, I’ve been comfortable playing a few minutes here and there in the tournament so far and growing from strength to strength, but the hard work continues.”
Move to Gloucester
Kriel was an integral part of the Lions team that reached the Super Rugby final three years in a row from 2016-2018, before he moved to Gloucester to rejoin former Lions coach Johan Ackermann, however due to his injuries he only featured 20 times over two seasons before returning to the Lions in 2020.
“For myself it was a good experience but for my rugby career it wasn’t so good,” admitted Kriel.
“I never really got going after my double shoulder surgery in 2017 and 2018, just getting injury after injury made my time there difficult. At a new club you want to prove yourself and I never really got that opportunity due to injuries.
“It is an experience I had to go through otherwise I would have always wondered what it would have been like to play there. Now I can advise the younger guys and older ones who’d be interested in going.”
Having now returned home to the team where it all began, Kriel is now focusing on rebuilding his career along with a very young and exciting Lions team that is hoping to make an impact in their first showing in the URC.
“It is great to be part of the Lions again, we have a fantastic bunch of guys here who are focused on making a difference on and off the field,” said Kriel.
“We have an exciting group of youngsters in our environment and we look forward to seeing what they can offer given the opportunity. The United Rugby Championship is a massive platform for them to showcase their capabilities on an international stage.”
Improving in URC
It has been an up and down start to the URC for the Lions, with a bonus point win over Zebre followed up by a poor loss against Scarlets and they will be looking to improve when they take on Glasgow Warriors on Saturday.
“There are no easy games in the URC, we had a good start against Zebre and it was a challenging second 40 minutes but we managed to emerge victorious. Scarlets were a different challenge and we take the learning’s from that fixture and work towards improving as we forge ahead,” explained Kriel.
“We’re looking to improve week on week, the URC is a tournament which demands teams bring their A game for every fixture and that’s our aim as we progress in the tournament.”
As Kriel continues his return to full playing fitness and form he will continue to look ahead and hopefully one day get the chance to represent his country again.
“To put on the green and gold for the first time was quite special, to have the opportunity to experience that once more would be an honour and privilege, but to get there again will take a lot of hard work,” said Kriel.