Elton Jantjies gestures during the third Test against France in June. Photo: Gavin Barker/BackpagePix

CAPE TOWN - The flyhalf position is obviously one of the highest-pressure positions in the game of rugby. Scratch that - it is the highest-pressure position.

The pivot needs to be a good kicker, out of hand and from the tee, have a solid passing game, top awareness, great decision-making and an ability to control the game, and having nerves of steel won’t do any harm either.

It’s no good being a general who only boasts an almost-magnetic relationship with the black dot between the posts, or a sound all-round game with the exception of being able to slot those important penalty kicks (okay, in the modern game it’s not an absolute must anymore, anyone can line up for place kicks. Besides, even if that was still the case, Beauden Barrett would have rubbished that claim easily).

Anyway, now imagine constantly being second-guessed, Plus that pressure that just naturally comes with being a No 10 - how tough must that be? If you can’t imagine it, just ask Elton Jantjies, I’m sure he’ll be able to write you a trilogy or two on that topic.

Jantjies has been arguably the most scrutinised pivot over the last couple of years. We saw it last year and we’ve seen it this year as well - Jantjies always manages to top the list of must-be-discussed rugby topics. Of course it has sometimes been justified.

Last year, the Lions playmaker had a superb Super Rugby season and he was the form South African flyhalf. He was given his Bok chance after Sharks man Pat Lambie was knocked out cold by Saffa CJ Stander early in the first Test against Ireland in June and, of course, injury to Handre Pollard meant that Jantjies simply had to be given a shot.

Although he didn’t manage to completely convince any nay-sayers with his performance in the first Test in 2016, Jantjies showed his attacking know-how in the second Test as he was part of a Lions element that sparked a second-half comeback that saved the Boks from suffering an embarrassing series defeat to the Irish.

But he didn’t just influence the second Test - he played an instrumental role in all three of the Boks’ series victories, and that seems to be conveniently forgotten whenever he does something that can’t be seen as good enough. That thing is usually his goal-kicking.

Yes, his goal-kicking has led to reasonable questions being asked, and his involvement in the Bok squad for last year’s end-of-year tour has probably not resulted in a gold star next to his name either - although any criticism based on that is hugely unfair, because we all know how the Boks, as a collective, performed last year, especially on tour.

But during this year’s Super Rugby season, Jantjies was one of the most successful goal-kickers, but as soon as his series of blunders in their quarter-final match against the Sharks came, everything that Jantjies had done throughout the season evaporated. 

Actually, evaporation is too slow a process to describe the arrival of the “Jantjies has no BMT” rants that were shouted from everywhere after that last-gasp win at Ellis Park - everything he had done this year disappeared suddenly. Abruptly.

Yes, criticism will always be there, that I fully understand (but whether it will always be there like this can be debated) and opinions differ. Different people like different players. 

But what I found mind-boggling - in fact downright disrespectful and wrong - was how the Springbok assistant coaches had to answer questions about the Boks’ other flyhalves left and right in Port Elizabeth.

Bok attack coach Franco Smith and Jantjies were seated next to each other and guess what came up - Pollard and Curwin Bosch - all while Jantjies was sitting there.

Smith was asked about Pollard - whose rehabilitation and physical conditioning is being monitored - and when he would get back into the Bok team. 

One shocking question to Johann van Graan on Monday was “when will he be back to reclaim his position”.

Has Jantjies done nothing to deserve some respect?

But I wonder how many questions will be dug up after his fine performance at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium against Argentina on Saturday - where he kicked seven out of seven, controlled the game with ease, showed good decision-making, and produced a number of space-creating passes - most notably the one to Courtnall Skosan in midfield that set the pacey wing up for a beautiful try.

Elton Jantjies deserves some respect. And it’s about time he got it.

Cape Times

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