David Kriel celebrates with Embrose Papier. (Photo by Lee Warren/Gallo Images)
If ever there was an illustration of the real impact Jake White and his coaching lieutenants are having at Loftus, it was Saturday’s 43-26 URC win over Ospreys.
HOW IT HAPPENED | Bulls vs. Ospreys
It’s not about the fact that this win evens them on record points (29) with the Stormers, who have a game to go, at the top of the South African shield.
This is not the enduring class of veterans like Nizaam Carr, Bismarck du Plessis and Lionel Mapoe, who were all incisive and influential with the ball in hand and on the ground.
And it’s not as if the franchise’s rising superstars in new captain Ruan Nortje and Elrigh Louw will continue to dominate at this level.
This win came over David Kriel, the epitome of White and company’s ability to mold under-the-radar players into top-class alternatives when the Boks, notably Kurt-Lee Arendse, Canan Moodie and Sbu Nkosi, aren’t around. .
The lanky 23-year-old has been terrific this season as one of White’s back-line reinforcements, a man who has switched between midfield, fullback and wing with aplomb.
However, on what turned out to be a beautiful sunny Highveld afternoon after kick-off was delayed 30 minutes due to an earlier thunderstorm, Kriel was the proverbial King Midas – everything he touched turned to gold.
His most obvious contribution was a couple of attempts, displaying his predatory instincts to cross the lime.
The first came in the seventh minute when he was ready to finish off a silky move from a lineout where the switch from Harold Vorster to Embrose Papier allowed the ball to roll over the line.
And then, on 32 minutes, a brilliant tackle from Mapoe pressured the Welsh side into a breakdown, where Kriel pounced on a loose ball, fed Mapoe, who in turn conjured a sublime offhand backhand for his winger.
However, those scores should not be allowed to overshadow what Kriel did without possession.
It was their passing competition early in the second half that gave the Bulls an immediate boost going into the restart.
In the 55th minute, Kriel prevented a certain Ospreys attempt when he deftly dislodged the ball from the carrier by sneakily wrapping his right arm around it.
Early in the fourth quarter, opposing pivot Jack Walsh kicked a strange fumble forward, the rebound of which suggested he was going to score, only for Kriel to hold his head and sweep the ball up the slide.
He was brilliance personified.
The hosts scored another five tries as they continue to show progress in combining power with company.
But White will be a little disappointed by a third quarter that, at times, threatened to hold up an Ospreys combination that really just hung on by feeding on leftovers in the picture.
The lineout fell apart once Jan-Hendrik Wessels’ throw-ins and communication were brought into the equation and awarding a bonus point for allowing four tries felt unnecessary given his overall dominance.
Fortunately, the end of the game was emphatic as the Bulls regained some vigor on offense and scored twice in the final 10 minutes.
He gave them the marker damper that… and Kriel, quite frankly, they deserved.
Bulls – (31) 43
Tries: David Kriel (2), Nizaam Carr, WJ Steenkamp, Elrigh Louw, Ruan Nortje, Zak Burger
Conversions: Chris Smith (3), Morne Steyn
ospreys – (14) 26
Attempts: Jack Walsh, Tiaan Thomas-Wheeler, Keiran Williams, Rhys Henry
Conversions: Walsh (3)