Jesse Kriel cannot wait for his second taste of the Twickenham big time when South Africa face New Zealand in a World Cup semi-final on Saturday.
Last weekend’s 23-19 quarter-final win over Wales, in front of a crowd of nearly 80,000 was the 21-year-old Springbok centre’s first match at English rugbyunion’s headquarters.
“I think I still have to pinch myself for the fact that I am here,” Kriel, who only made his Test debut in July, told reporters at South Africa’s hotel in Guildford, southwest of London, on Tuesday.
“It’s going to be another great experience. Last weekend was my first game at Twickenham and the atmosphere was awesome. I really enjoyed it,” added the Blue Bulls midfielder who has just nine caps.
But talk of his inexperience cut no ice with the self-assured Kriel, one of the rising stars of the world game.
“I think everyone says inexperience, this and that, but the only way you can gain experience is by playing. I’m just going to go out there this week and give it my best,” he said.
But unlike many a more seasoned player, Kriel has already scored a try against New Zealand, albeit during a 27-20 defeat by the All Blacks in Johannesburg in just his second Test.
“Obviously it’s something that I really enjoyed and it’s one of the highlights of my career so far. Hopefully it can replay this week in the semi-final.”
For much of rugby union’s history, South Africa and reigning world champions New Zealand have been the sport’s two pre-eminent teams.
But their record is rather more one-sided in recent times, with the All Blacks having won seven out of nine meetings with the Springboks during the past four years.
– ‘Better than your best’ –
South Africa star Bryan Habana, a World Cup-winner in 2007, was in no doubt of the scale of the task facing his side against a New Zealand team who won through to the last four with a 62-13 thrashing of France.
“They have been playing some fantastic rugby and the performance they put in last Saturday was really special against the French,” said Habana.
“I think to beat the number one side in the world you have to be better than your best in every facet of play,” he added.
“Your discipline has to be unbelievably good. Your defence has to be as sound as it ever has been before. Your physicality and intensity has to go ten notches up.
“These two sides also have a lot of legends who might not be playing post this World Cup so it is going to be truly epic.”
Someone who will hope this is not his last World Cup is All Blacks wing Julian Savea.
This tournament has already seen the 25-year-old equal the record for most tries at a World Cup of eight held jointly by All Blacks star Jonah Lomu (1999) and Habana (2007).
“I have an unbelievable amount of respect for Julian,” said the 32-year-old Habana.
“When he first got into that All Black jumper, there was a lot of doubts about his ability. To see the way he has come on leaps and bounds over the last three years, especially in this tournament, is immense.
“I put it out on social media on Saturday night for him to have equalled mine and Jonah’s record for the number of tries at a World Cup is immense. Due credit for a man who has worked unbelievably hard and has shown himself as a global superstar on the current stage.” – Agence France-Presse