It was just over a year ago that Jantjies was plucked from the rugby wilderness, overweight and with little or no hope of ever fulfilling his potential.
Fast forward to a year after being picked from rugby’s rubble and Jantjies finally made his Super Rugby debut against the Highlanders on Saturday and now stands on the verge of another career milestone when he squares up against his brother, Springbok and Lions star flyhalf Elton.
The 25-year-old Jantjies is a strong contender to start in the No10 jersey in Saturday’s match at Ellis Park in a game that will not only divide fans across the Jukskei River but will do so in the Jantjies' home as the two brothers rekindle their duel.
However, the younger of the Jantjies brothers, Tony, doesn’t buy into the hype of facing his brother and is looking at lending a hand for his beleaguered Bulls side in the same way they helped resuscitate his career last year.
“We’ve played against each other in the Vodacom Cup and the Currie Cup. At the end of the day it is nice to play against him but it is not about that. I would love to play in a winning team. I would love to do so much for my team and it is all about the team for me. I can’t put myself before the team. If I do my basics well and the team function well and we have a good result this weekend, it will be amazing and I can have a laugh with my boet afterwards. But at this point we just want to win and everything is for the team and not about me,” said Jantjies.
The fact that Jantjies had been earmarked for a sparkling career from his heyday at Hoërskool Menlo Park to him making his senior debut for the Bulls in Currie Cup rugby in 2012, and it all ended with him being discarded by the Eastern Province Kings after only five months in Port Elizabeth before returning to Loftus, should serve as an inspirational story for his Bulls teammates who have all but been written off ahead of their clash against the Lions.
Jantjies is optimistic that there is a silver lining for the team as long as they play without fear of failure and with the freedom coach Nollis Marais has handed them.
“Being an underdog in life is a good thing. People don’t expect much from us so we can go out there and play good, quality rugby. The fans have already shown that they don’t have hope in us and everybody is writing us off but I promise that on Saturday we will give everything and we will play without fear. That is what the coach wants. To play without fear and with freedom and that is what we’ve been working on. If the team do well then everything will go according to plan.”
While Jantjies’ Super Rugby debut may not have had the happy ending of the Bulls winning, it is the character and willingness to play good rugby they showed in the game against the Highlanders that makes last weekend’s game for Jantjies a dream debut. And he wants more of the same at Ellis Park on Saturday.
“I really enjoyed it. The coach promised me earlier in the season that he is going to give me a chance and I just had to be patient and when it came I enjoyed it. I thought I was going to play for five minutes but the coach backed me by giving me 28 minutes so it was a pleasure to be back in the game.”
“I wouldn’t have wanted an easier game. The coach asked for character and last week we had suffered a big defeat. Each and every player had to show character. We showed it and it could have easily gone the other way but I wouldn’t have chosen another day or easier opposition to make my debut,” Jantjies said.
As excited as older brother Elton was last weekend ahead of Tony’s debut, that excitement will turn to fierce sibling rivalry.
“He (Elton) video called me while he was in Australia and he was so excited. We are very close and whenever he achieves I’m happy and when I achieve, he’s happy. For both of us playing at this level is an honour.”
The Bulls have been rocked by the unavailability of Springbok scrumhalf Piet van Zyl due to pneumonia while Springbok wing Jamba Ulengo will undergo a late fitness test on a leg injury.