They are two of the bright sparks who lit up the 2015 Rugby Championship and Jesse Kriel and Nehe Milner-Skudder get their first chances to star on the Rugby World Cup stage this weekend, when Kriel plays for South Africa against Japan and Milner-Skudder starts for the All Blacks against Argentina.
Kriel, 21, played full-back for the Bulls in this year’s Super Rugby tournament, but switched to outside centre to make his Test debut against Australia on 18 July, and grabbed the headlines with a superb solo try in the Springboks’ 24-20 defeat, showcasing his brilliantly balanced running and dangerous pace.
A week later he crossed the whitewash again, this time somehow finding a gap between one of the most experienced and highly-rated centre pairings in world rugby, New Zealand’s Ma’a Nonu and Conrad Smith.
Kriel’s assured start to his Test career certainly impressed former South Africa full-back Thinus Delport, who picked him out as a player to watch at this World Cup. “He’s a very strong runner, which we saw in the Super Rugby with him counter-attacking from 15 for the Bulls,” Delport told Sky. “He really looks like he can add to that outside centre position.”
South Africa coach Heineke Meyer has heaped even more praise on the youngster from Cape Town, calling him “one of the most talented players I’ve ever coached.”
Kriel played for the Junior Springboks in 2014 alongside his twin brother Dan. He played Vodacom Cup rugby for the Blue Bulls in 2014 then made the step up to Super Rugby and strode confidently on, into the Test arena. Having partnered Damian de Allende in the centre in the Rugby Championship (and played at right wing against Argentina), Kriel will line up alongside 107-cap veteran Jean de Villiers, who wears No 12 and the captain’s in Saturday’s clash with Japan (4.45pm, Brighton Community Stadium).
Another bolter from this year’s Rugby Championship, New Zealand wing Milner-Skudder, will run out for the All Blacks when they commence the defence of their crown on Sunday against Argentina (4.45pm, Wembley).
Milner-Skudder, 24, won his first cap against Australia on 8 August in Sydney and experienced mixed emotions that day, as he scored two tries but ended up on the losing side, 27-19. A former Canterbury Bulldogs U20s rugby league player, Milner-Skudder is fleet of foot and has a wicked sidestep. He is powerful too, and battered his way through three Wallaby defenders for his second Test score.
“That was a great try,” said All Blacks coach Steve Hansen. “The debut of Nehe Milner-Skudder was very impressive. He was confident all week and he’s impressed us with how quickly he’s learnt.”
The Hurricanes wing earned his second cap against the same opponents a week later, but was still astonished when he received a phone-call from New Zealand team manager Darren Shand telling him he was in the World Cup squad. “At first I was in shock,” he said. “I was like ‘are you sure you’ve got the right number?’.”
Milner-Skudder’s squad-mates, Codie Taylor and Waisake Naholo, who both won their first caps on 17 July, will have to wait a little longer to take their tournament bow, just like uncapped South African scrum-half Rudy Paige. Keep your eyes peeled for them as the tournament unfolds – they could soon become household names.