Veteran Springbok fullback Gio Aplon is out for the rest of the season after tearing his ACL ligament at the weekend but his likely replacement, David Kriel, is an exciting prospect for the Bulls, and the Sharks, who will no doubt be subjecting him to an aerial barrage at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday, should be warned that the 21-year-old is a dangerous customer.
Aplon will undergo surgery on Wednesday and his recovery will take several months. The Super Rugby Unlocked competition ends on November 21, but will be followed by a Currie Cup competition, for which all log points will be transferred.
Kriel has so far been selected on the wing for the Bulls, but impressed when he moved to fullback to replace Aplon early on in the weekend’s game against the Free State Cheetahs in Bloemfontein. Apart from Kriel’s threat with ball in hand – he is an elusive runner – the Potchefstroom-born product was also solid and composed under the high ball.
Kriel is the older brother of Richard, who has been at the Bulls since 2018. David was formerly part of the Stormers squad but did not get a game and moved to Pretoria in May. David and Richard opposed each other in last year’s national U21 final, both playing fullback for Western Province and the Blue Bulls respectively.
“The competition is good for both of us, even though I think my brother is the better rugby player,” David Kriel said on Monday.
“But it makes it easier to adapt to the move with him being here. Ever since our days at Grey College, when we only had half-a-season together in the 1st XV before he got injured in 2017, my matric year, I’ve always dreamt of us reuniting. Ever since that season got cut short, I’ve wanted to play in the same team as him and I’m very happy to have him here with me.”
Given how quickly he has settled into the Super Rugby Unlocked team, he is clearly comfortable in Pretoria. “Things have started happening quicker than I thought they would, but you have to always be ready for your opportunity and I like to think I was. Every day at Loftus is like a dream, I was a young kid when Morne Steyn won the series here against the British Lions, Gio Aplon was also a Springbok when I was growing up, so it’s an indescribable feeling to play with these guys.
“I feel very sorry for Gio and I wish him a speedy recovery, we will miss his experience. To have the faith of the senior men around here has really helped my learning curve, and every day it grows a bit more.
“And Fourie du Preez was here helping us the other day, he’s another World Cup winner so that can only be good,” Kriel said.
While he’s played mostly on the wing, fullback is his first-choice position. “I’m very excited to maybe be the first-choice fullback now, at 21 years old, not many have played in the No.15 jersey for the Bulls. I can’t wait to show off my worth, my first-choice position is fullback and having a big kicking boot helps there,” Kriel said.