CAPE TOWN - The Springboks-All Blacks clash at Newlands was a classic, with a a lot of talking points after the whistle had sounded. Inevitably, flyhalf Elton Jantjies and his performance was one of those points.
Here is the case for and against the pivot, and my verdict on his future in the Springbok team.
The case against Jantjies:
Elton Jantjies has produced a few good performances in the Springboks jersey, but he has also given fans and experts alike a few (sometimes fair) reasons to criticise him. And his performance on Saturday was one of those outings that deserves criticism.
Against the All Blacks, Jantjies made a number of costly mistakes - his charged-down kick led to the All Blacks’ first try, and he also missed a tackle that led to a try. He was caught behind the advantage line and there were a couple of ill-timed passes.
But it’s the position-specific mistakes he was guilty of that are more troubling - like his poor exit kick that didn’t even reach the All Blacks 10-metre line and the vital penalty kick he missed in front of the posts.
It wouldn’t be completely unfair to say that Jantjies seems to struggle in the big matches, and the question keeps coming up: does he have BMT?
I don’t know, I mean, one can also look at his shaky production in the Lions’ Super Rugby quarter-final match against the Sharks - an encounter that Jantjies struggled so much in that he was replaced in the 62nd minute at Ellis Park - to substantiate the claim that he lacks BMT.
The case for Jantjies:
That was the bad, now let’s get to the good. Jantjies certainly didn’t have his best game at the weekend, and I can almost guarantee that the Handre Pollard fans will cling onto his linebreak and try-assisting offload for all it’s worth. And that’s fine - each to his own.
Yeah, Jantjies missed that tackle, in fact he missed three, but he made 12. And is all the good he’s done this season really going to be erased from everyone’s memory because of Saturday?
What about his fine performances against the French in June, or his outings against Argentina in Port Elizabeth - where he made it 25 out of 28 attempts at goal for a success rate of 89.2 percent. And he’s been consistent with the boot ever since.
But never mind that, what about his superb distribution that he uses to effortlessly put his runners into space with his swift inside passes, or his dedication on defence. In fact, it’s been hard to criticise Jantjies this season, and he’s shown huge progress from last year. Let’s just go back to the BMT quickly - so, there’s doubts regarding Jantjies’ temperament and his ability to deliver in the big matches.
But who conducted the Lions to back-to-back Super Rugby finals, who was the general when the Lions won a number of big contests over the last two years? That was Jantjies. Also, who conducted the Boks’ play in the five matches they’ve won this year? I’m pretty sure that was Jantjies as well. There seems to be this public notion, though, that the Springboks have been more successful this year despite having only Jantjies at flyhalfor that the Boks have managed to pull in a few wins in spite of playing Jantjies at flyhalf.
But Jantjies is an attacking asset, and his attacking abilities go much further than just the occasional kick-pass. He has vision, the ability to read and assess different situations, an ability to take the ball to the line at pace, and distribution skills make him a good option at No 10. And let’s not forget about his defence. Then there’s also the fact he’s managed to perform on various occasions despite the anti-Jantjies spew he’s had to deal with. And that certainly says something about his resilience.
But those discouraging words haven’t always come only from the fans, remember how Allister Coetzee said he was “tempted” to select Pollard against Argentina already, even though he wasn’t finished with his rehabilitation? Yeah, there’s that as well. And it’s indicative of Coetzee’s preference for Pollard.
I say Jantjies deserves to be in the Springboks No 10 jersey, and Coetzee should stick with him. Sure, Pollard should be brought into the set-up, it can even be at inside centre or, if Coetzee prefers him at 10, he should be given time there. But it wouldn’t make sense for him to get the nod if he hasn’t even been able to prove his match fitness yet. All things considered, I still back the Lions man to be the Bok orchestrator.