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Wednesday 7 December 2016

Niko Kruger divided loyalties as he looks to knock out country of birth

South African-born No 9 plots to knock out native country

US scrum half Niko Kruger attends a press conference
US scrum half Niko Kruger attends a press conference

Apart from a game to be won, there will be a few poignant moments amid the fierceness of battle when the United States play South Africa at the World Cup today.

US scrum-half Niko Kruger will come up against players wearing a Springbok jersey he once dreamed of donning growing up in South Africa, but could now be part of potentially its most disastrous moment in the sport.

Just outside Kruger will be flyhalf Shalom Suniula, whose brother Andrew is one step further down the backline at inside centre, producing a proud family moment the Samoan-born pair are relishing.

Kruger, who will turn 24 on Friday, attended Pretoria Boys High School in South Africa's capital, the same alma mater as 2007 World Cup-winning hooker John Smit.

When he found opportunities limited in his homeland he headed to the United States and the unheralded surrounds of Kutztown University in rural Pennsylvania.

There he was a rugby star, but also suffered a career threatening injury that required two operations on his knee to fix an anterior cruciate ligament injury that persisted.

It has been a long, emotional road to this point, but all that will be forgotten when he runs onto the Olympic Stadium pitch in London for the Pool B match.

"Obviously for me it's going to be an opportunity that I've dreamt of for a very long time," Kruger said. "It's probably going to be pretty emotional at the same time.

"It's an opportunity to play against some guys that you know have made it big in the sport. It's an opportunity to just go out there and enjoy myself."

Suniula, 27, also says life-long memories will be made when he combines so closely with older brother Andrew, 33.

"That's something that doesn't come around very often so it's a moment I'll definitely relish; not only playing against the Springboks but to lace up next to him," Shalom said.

"When he's playing 12 that's something that's definitely going to last. It's a memory that'll last forever."

Victory for the US, unlikely as it may seem, would open the possibility of ending South Africa's stay in the World Cup after the pool stages, something that would have been virtually unthinkable when the draw was made.

Should that happen there will be emotions of a very different kind flowing at the Olympic Stadium.

South Africa v USA, today, live TV3 (ko 4.45pm)

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