Heinz Schenk – Sport24
It says much about Dan Kriel’s character and the special relationship he enjoys with his twin brother, Springbok star Jesse, when you ask him about the perception that he plays in his more famous sibling’s shadow.
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The lanky Lions centre, who moved from Newlands to Ellis Park in the off-season, hardly takes offence.
To be honest, he’s very much used to it.
“Yeah it’s something (a question) that pops up often,” the 26-year-old told Sport24.
“But it’s definitely not the case. We both support each other and are each other’s biggest fan and critic at the same time.
“We’re both lucky to have each other as a support system and to be able to understand what either of us are going through when it comes to the rugby world.”
Call it a bond between twins, but the brothers certainly shared in each other’s trials and tribulations from an early age.
When both reached Under-16 level at Maritzburg College, Jesse – something he apparently still believes was a tad inexplicable – didn’t get picked for KwaZulu-Natal’s team at the Grant Khomo Week.
Dan did make the trip to Upington, but broke his ankle during the first game.
Two years later, Jesse got the nod for Craven Week selection though that excitement was tempered by Dan missing out after dislocating a shoulder and missing most of the First XV season.
Fortunately for the two brothers, their fortunes dovetailed for their age-group careers.
Both got into the Junior Springbok squad for 2013’s World Championship via the backdoor, before becoming key members of the next year’s vintage, when South Africa agonisingly lost 21-20 to England in the final.
One of the more enduring moments of that campaign was when Jesse scored a fine try in a pool match against the All Blacks after Dan neatly exploited the space created by Handre Pollard’s inside pass.
Right after Jesse celebrated with a flamboyant air-punch, Dan was there first to celebrate.
It made for wonderful theatre.
“2014 was a special year because we were such a special group of players. We made memories in that year’s tournament that I’ll cherish for a very long time to come,” said Kriel.
Naturally, being reminded of that moment prompts the midfielder, who is noticeably taller (1.93m) and heavier than Jesse, to dream of something like that happening again at the highest level of the game.
“I would absolutely love for that to be repeated in a Springbok jersey. I think it’s every rugby-playing boy’s dream to play alongside his brother for their national team.”
Yet the realities of the professional game set in after the high of New Zealand 2014.
Jesse went on to trailblaze his way into Heyneke Meyer’s World Cup squad the following year, while Dan – hamstrung by a Bulls team struggling to impose itself under Nollis Marais – chose to go to the Cape.
He showed glimpses of promise, but ultimately also fell victim to Western Province and the Stormers’ penchant for maddening inconsistency.
The depth available at Newlands also meant he didn’t exactly enjoy an abundance of game time.
Now back in Gauteng on the southern side of the Jukskei river, Kriel truly has the all-important blank page to stamp his authority.
While the Lions’ midfield changed constantly in 2020, he made the No 12 jersey his own.
Not that’s he’s too perturbed by having had three centre partners in Duncan Matthews, Manny Rass and Wandisile Simelane.
“It’s been awesome starting at the Lions and being part of such a proud union,” said Kriel.
“Both Manny and Wandi are such talented individuals and I hope to play many more games with them. It will be great if I form a really strong combination with either of them.”
Already he’s sounding like a senior member of the team in pleading for the Ellis Park faithful to be patient during a distinct period of transition.
“We have had some tough results this season but with time this group will grow into something special, just like the previous one grew over a four-year period (under Johan Ackermann and Swys de Bruin). We have that example to guide us.”