20 June 2018

South Africa: 'Wiser' Jantjies Set for Springbok Return?

For almost two years under Allister Coetzee, Elton Jantjies was South Africa's first-choice flyhalf.

It started when Pat Lambie found himself knocked out cold in the first Test against Ireland in June, 2016 and over the next two years Jantjies would go on to start 17 matches in the No 10 jersey.

While there were moments of encouragement, the overall assessment was that Jantjies sometimes struggled to make the step up from Super Rugby to Test match rugby.

He was not helped by the fact that the Boks were poor in almost all departments under Coetzee, but it was in his inconsistency implementing the basics where he received most of his criticism.

All throughout that time, though, Jantjies has been South Africa's form flyhalf in Super Rugby where the enterprising Lions thrive off his creativity in distribution and his ability to move his side forward quickly.

That form kept him very much in the Springbok mix when Rassie Erasmus took over as coach at the start of 2018, and Jantjies was the man entrusted with the flyhalf duties when a youthful Bok team lost to Wales in America.

The 27-year-old, earning his 24th cap, was poor on the day with his kicking out of hand a particular concern.

When the Boks returned home to begin their three-Test series against England, Erasmus turned to Handre Pollard . He has not looked back.

Having battled injury throughout the Coetzee era, Pollard is finally back to his best and he has brought an element of dependability that the Boks have been lacking in the flyhalf channel.

While Pollard was shining, Jantjies played just a couple of minutes in the first Test in Johannesburg before being left out of the matchday squad entirely for the second Test in Bloemfontein.

But, speaking in Cape Town on Tuesday ahead of the third and final Test this weekend, Jantjies explained that he still views himself as part of the Springbok plans.

"It was a rotation policy to give Jesse (Kriel) a run and for me to work on myself and getting ready for the future," Jantjies said of his exclusion from the squad for the second Test.

"Maybe this week I will play and then I need to make sure that my body is in the best possible condition to perform. I've had a lot of games in Super Rugby this year and last year as well."

Considered a natural leader by Lions coach Swys de bruin, Jantjies explained how his mind-set and approach to the game had changed over the years and it has brought him to a place where he sees the bigger picture.

"It's not an individual thing for me. It's all about running the system and making sure that I make the right decisions for our team and making sure I get the best out of our players," he said.

"Obviously I'm a little bit older than what I was. Back then it was all about the individual and making sure that I kick all my goals and that I create a lot of tries. At this point it's all about making sure that the system runs ... that I know the guys around me and how they want to play. That's how I see rugby now, so it's a bit different for me."

It would be cruel of the Boks to put Jantjies up for press duties on a Tuesday and then not pick him in the Saturday matchday squad, so that much suggests that he will play some part at Newlands.

It is hard, though, to see Erasmus going in without Pollard, who seems to be getting stronger and stronger, but the coach has confirmed that there will be changes.

It could translate into Jantjies getting another crack.

Pollard is the overwhelming favourite to take the Boks to the World Cup next year, which might not be the best news for the Lions pivot.

But the new, mature Jantjies has a different outlook.

"Obviously it's good for South African rugby to have a few talented flyhalves coming through and they're still very young," he said.

"They can take us for another five or six years and that's a positive."

The Bok team for Saturday's clash will be named on Thursday.

Sport24

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