| Jacques Nienaber explains Jesse Kriel wing surprise, Willie le Roux omission

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Willie le Roux. (Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images)

Willie le Roux. (Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images)

Springbok head coach Jacques Nienaber said Jesse Kriel's inclusion at right wing for Saturday's Test against Wales was geared towards beefing up experience in the backline after Willie le Roux's rotational omission.

Le Roux missed out on the No 15 jersey in favour of Damian Willemse, in a rare exclusion for the World Cup-winning fullback who started the Rugby World Cup final against England on this day in 2019.

Le Roux has started all but one Test so far this year since the Boks resumed international duty following a pandemic-induced 18-month hiatus.

READ | Willemse, Kriel and Jantjies earn starting spots for Springboks against Wales

The Toyota Verblitz star's form tapered off as the season progressed, culminating in the Boks' two defeats in their last four Rugby Championship outings against Australia and New Zealand Down Under.

Kriel got his break into the starting XV after wing Sbu Nkosi was not in camp due to passport and visa issues.

Jesse Kriel,springboks

Jesse Kriel. (Photo by Wessel Oosthuizen/Gallo Images)

Gallo Images

Many expected Aphelele Fassi to force his way into the back three, but the exciting rookie didn't crack the match 23, as Frans Steyn took the only available utility back spot in the reserves.

"Jesse has played at wing for us before, so it's not an experiment. We know that he can do it," said Nienaber.

"In 2018, he started at wing for us against the All Blacks in Wellington. With the rotation we made at 15, Jesse is nice for us in terms of bringing some organisational skills and almost 50 Test caps of experience.

"Rotating a guy like Willie, who has 70 Test caps, gives an opportunity for someone to [gain] some experience.

"Jesse has trained well with us over the last few weeks we've been together."

Damian Willemse. (Photo by Johan Pretorius/Gallo I

Damian Willemse. (Photo: Johan Pretorius/Gallo Images)

Gallo Images

Le Roux's place in the team has been subject to plenty of conjecture, even as he formed part of the world-conquering Springbok team in Japan.

Dropped high balls and defensive lapses have become more frequent for the enigmatic 32-year-old, with the occasional flash of brilliance papering above cracks.

READ HERE | One Test at a time will be Bok approach on year-end tour, says Kitshoff

Although his squad has been screaming for some freshening up in Le Roux's department, Nienaber said he'd select him if they were playing in a World Cup final tomorrow - a sign of his unwavering faith in the ex-Paul Roos pupil.

However, Nienaber said the Wales Test in Cardiff presented an ideal opportunity to give Willemse a good run against strong opposition.

Aphelele Fassi (Gallo)

Aphelele Fassi. (Gallo)

Willemse last started in SA's 32-12 win over Argentina in Gqeberha in August.

"Willie has played the majority of Test matches from 2018, and we know what we have in Willie," said Nienaber.

"I said, if we have to play a World Cup final this weekend, we will probably select Willie because of his experience and what he's done for us in the past, but this is the ideal situation to give Damian an opportunity.

"We haven't given Damian an extended opportunity where he can actually play and settle himself into the fullback position. We felt this was a great opportunity.

"We said to Willie, help us develop him and Aphelele. It's a little side project and Willie is feeding as much information as he can into them.

"In saying that, Aphelele, Damian and Willie are different players, with different X-factors and skill sets.

"Yes, there are certain things from a team perspective they'll have to drive but they have to bring their specialness into the game and find their foothold in the game which suits their style of play."




South Africa

15 Damian Willemse, 14 Jesse Kriel, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Handre Pollard, 9 Herschel Jantjies, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Kwagga Smith, 6 Siya Kolisi (captain), 5 Lood de Jager, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Trevor Nyakane, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Ox Nche

Substitutes: 16 Malcolm Marx, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Vincent Koch, 19 Franco Mostert, 20 Jasper Wiese, 21 Cobus Reinach, 22 Elton Jantjies, 23 Frans Steyn

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