JOHANNESBURG – Let Elton Jantjies play! That is the cry of rugby fans across South Africa as the Springboks ready themselves for the first Test of the new season – against France at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria on Saturday.
There are many questions about the new-look Bok outfit and what impact the likes of Brendan Venter and Franco Smith will have, and how Warren Whiteley’s leadership and cool head will impact the team, but how the Boks perform as a unit will come down to the No 10 – Jantjies.
All rugby eyes will again be turned in the flyhalf’s direction on Saturday as the Boks begin their second year under the guidance of Allister Coetzee.
Last year Jantjies got his chance when Pat Lambie was ruled out in the first Test and for the rest of the year the Lions man was the first choice director of the Boks. He didn’t enjoy a good 2016. None of the Boks did but Jantjies copped much of the blame.
Now the 26-year-old is back for more; the only standing No 10 in the country after injuries put paid to the chances of Lambie and Handre Pollard getting their hands on the No 10 shirt.
If truth be told though, Jantjies was always the right man for the Bok job, the only man, even if Pollard and Lambie were fit.
In Super Rugby last year and so far this season, the Lions flyhalf has been in a class of his own. He has flourished under coach Johan Ackermann and become a more mature player, capable of doing anything and everything the best in the game are capable of as first receiver. He is a leader of the backs at his franchise, he makes crucial calls and plays with confidence and belief. He makes men around him shine he is playmaker and he is match-winner.
What makes Jantjies the right man for the job at the Lions and what makes him the best man for the Boks, is that he is the only No 10 who’ll take the Boks forward. The reasons are simple: He attacks the gain-line, he puts those around him into space, he reads the game superbly, and he’s got his bag of tricks that every good flyhalf should have. In it are his kick-passes to the wing, his dinks into space behind the opposition line, his inside off-loads.
Jantjies has shown over two years in Super Rugby he is as good as any other No 10 in the game, including Beauden Barrett of New Zealand.
Ackermann has made it clear Jantjies is a class act, but he’s also stated that the flyhalf needs to be understood, backed and supported. And that, above everything else, is what Coetzee, Venter and Smith in the Bok team must know.
There is no point in picking Jantjies as your No 10 and then asking him to play a certain way. It’s not going to work. It’s why he didn’t perform for the Boks last year and it’s why he won’t do the business if he’s asked to play a certain way this year. Put him in a box, and tell him what to do and how to play and you might as well not pick him.
It can only be hoped that with his Lions captain Whiteley leading the way and with Coetzee having learnt a lot from the disappointing 2016 season, Jantjies will flourish in the Bok jersey this year, like he has done at Super Rugby level.
He may not have convinced at Test level – for whatever reasons – but he has proven himself time and again against the best in Super Rugby.
Jantjies is a No 10 with verve, vigour and fizz. He is in fine form and it’s time he is set free to play his game.