IOL Sport writer Lungani Zama.
This is not a race card debate. Let us make that very clear. We have enough of those  plucked from all directions  every week; on social media, around the braai, and in quiet corners to those we think may “get" what we are trying to say.

So, to be clear, this is not a race card. If anything, it is a query about a grace card. Where does one get one, and how does one then get that card into the hands of those who need it most?

It has been intriguing viewing, from a neutral perspective, to see the Lions go through to Super Rugby final over the past few months. Tickling even, to recall that it is just a few years ago they were busy playing off against the Kings, for the honour of getting back into the big time.

Now, they are South Africa’s most fluent franchise, and their crunch games are no longer a battle for survival. They are a happy mix of power and pace marshalled by a temperamental pivot who lives and dies by each result.

Not since Kevin Pietersen, perhaps, has a player’s supposed popularity fluctuated so dramatically  according to the bottom line. No, that is still not right. Pietersen had it better than that. His relationship with his employers and fans was often strained, and then disintegrated. But it did ride a tsunami of convenient enthusiasm in the honeymoon phase.

Maybe it is better to rate Elton Jantjies alongside Quade Cooper. They both have domestic star ability, which stumbled early in their international travails and they have never, ever been allowed to forget it. It can’t be fun hearing your own fans booing you, however badly you might play. There is something rather twisted in that.

Your own fans?! Imagine your own family pointing out your weakest traits, and then continually punching holes into the stab wounds of their words. Can’t be fun.

Let me make myself clear; I am not as one-eyed as the detractors, and am not suggesting that Jantjies is some saint who has been given a raw deal. In big games, he has not always touched the heights that we all know he can. His candle has dimmed, as if the wind is too strong for his suddenly fragile frame and mind.

A case in point were the errors in the final. Kicks that went too far, carrying the ball back into the dead-line. Those set his team back. A week before, when the Barrett brothers overcooked a few punts, the commentators chirped that they had too much power in their legs for their own good.

The brothers Barrett brushed it off, and went on trying their tricks again, safe in the knowledge their X-factor was trusted to succeed more often than it fails. That is not a comparison of skills between Barrett and Jantjies, but merely their working environments.

Sometimes, you could swear Jantjies is a one-man team; his deal a curious one of all the blame for disaster, and precious little praise when all the pieces fall into place. Then, well then, the Lions are a great team. United in victory, but individuals in defeat.

Then, the hairstyles become an issue, and the unnecessary flair, the cross-kicks and the no-look passes.

Jirre, Elton! What is that kak? Are you blind? It is utterly fascinating to observe, especially with neutral eyes. I am not a Lions fan  never have been. But I do know sportsmen have a better chance of succeeding when they know they are being backed, and that every error is not going to mark the beginning of their latest funeral.

Sure, Jantjies had a poor game against the ‘Saders, especially in the first half. So did several other Lions, including whoever made the decision to kick for an unlikely penalty goal, instead of going for the corner  at 23-13 down in a resurgent period after the break. But, just for a change, let us heap all the blame on the number 10 with a Pogba hairstyle. Funny how that grace card business works. 


Sunday Tribune

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