When the Springboks announced on Tuesday that Jaco Kriel is – to all intents and purposes – out for the rest of the Rugby Championship with a shoulder injury, you could immediately hear opinion being divided.
The Lions star is undoubtedly a popular player among South African fans in general.
He’s skillful, dynamic and hard-working.
Many will say he’s a big loss to the Springboks but there’s also a fair amount of observers who’ll express sympathy without getting stressed.
South African rugby still loves a proverbial “Hulk” of a player, the bulldozer generally swats an opponent aside.
Jean-Luc du Preez, the man most likely to replace Kriel against the All Blacks on Saturday, is that guy.
He’s a 1.94m, 112 kg monster of a man.
And he’s a brilliant replacement for Kriel.
The 22-year-old arguably will bring more balance to the Springboks’ loose trio because he’s an out-and-out blindside flanker.
He’s going to win collisions against the All Blacks defenders and he’s going to tackle well.
Du Preez’s elevation is not the issue here.
The problem is the risk that we don’t realise the magnitude of the Springboks losing Jaco Kriel.
We know it’s big but it’s actually huge.
Kriel is 1.84m tall and weighs 100 kg.
The two frontline centres – Jan Serfontein and Jesse Kriel – are taller than him.
Springboks coach Allister Coetzee has picked him as a blindside flanker, a position normally reserved for giants like Du Preez.
It’s also one where a player can’t play with as much freedom as he’s afforded at the Lions, especially at international level.
In other words, Kriel has been selected in a position he’s theoretically not suited for.
What his stats suggest though is a man who’s rubbished conventional wisdom.
Kriel has made the most tackles in the Rugby Championship to date – 39.
Du Preez’s 17 is also impressive considering he’s been used as a replacement.
However, one needs to realise that tackles can’t be measured equally.
Four of Kriel’s tackles have been dominant, meaning ball-carriers were overwhelming by his “hit” when they carried the ball.
That’s the third most in the tournament.
Du Preez, despite being taller and heavier, hasn’t made a single dominant hit.
Kriel, despite playing when defences are far more tighter, has broken the same amount of tackles as Du Preez.
He’s won three turnovers – the most in the tournament – and even won a line-out.
In this instance, the stats don’t quite lie: Kriel has played like a seasoned blindsider.
And he’s going to be missed … hugely.