DURBAN - The Springboks have arrived in Auckland for their toughest Test of the year with the spotlight once more on their flyhalf, Elton Jantjies and whether he is the man for the job on the international stage.
The 27-year-old had an error-strewn performance against the Wallabies in Perth last week and again question-marks have been raised as to whether he is the long-term answer for the Boks at flyhalf.
On Monday it was confirmed by Saru that they have released Patrick Lambie to take up a contract in France which means the pressure once more is on Jantjies to up his game given that the alternative at flyhalf in the current Springbok squad is the hopelessly-underplayed Handre Pollard, who was not given game time off the bench at the nib Stadium against the Wallabies, despite Jantjies making mistake after mistake.
Clearly, Pollard cannot be thrown to the wolves in Auckland’s North Harbour (Albany) this week given that he has not played for the Bulls this year because of injury, but the fact he is nonetheless included on the Bok bench suggests that coach Allister Coetzee sees him as the long-term answer at 10.
There is also the possibility that going forward Coetzee could include youngsters Curwin Bosch and Damian Willemse in his planning ahead of the World Cup in Japan in 2019.
There is also the possibility that Coetzee could revert to Lambie, who is joining Parisian club Racing 92, and is “safe” in that he has played more than the 30 Test requirement currently in place by the governing body.
But future possibilities count for nothing given that in a few days time, the Boks play the World Cup holders in their backyard and while this week Coetzee might give Pollard 20 minutes off the bench, he has to start with Jantjies, who had a wobble or three against the Wallabies.
The question has to be asked once more. Is Jantjies a good Super Rugby player but not an international-class flyhalf? There can be no better stage for Jantjies to answer that question than against the All Blacks at the North Harbour venue on Saturday.
Janties made some crucial mistakes against the Australians and he must now stand up and be counted if he wants to keep Pollard and (at a later stage) Bosch out of the starting line-up, not to mention avoid a recall for Lambie.
Jantjies had a shocker in the Bok jersey last year after a fine season with the Lions, although it has to be said that the entire Bok set-up was rotten to the core, so to blame one player is unfair.
This year, Jantjies again performed admirably for the Lions and in the Boks’ matches against France and the Pumas but then was poor when it counted, in the big test against the Wallabies away.
He made a basic error from a kick-off that didn’t go 10m, he missed a penalty for touch just before half-time, which ended up in three points for Australia; some of his kicks did not find touch; he missed a penalty attempt at goal from just about in front of the poles; and there was a tackle or two that he should have made to prevent tries.
The point is that it is tough for a Springbok team to win away from home when the flyhalf is making elementary errors in a match where there was no real pressure. The Boks were unbeaten going into this match and were never in danger of being overwhelmed by the Wallabies.
It is fact that the Boks could well have won this match if the flyhalf had been on song. But he wasn’t, and that now leaves the coaching staff with the same old problem. Was that just a wobbly from Elton and he is in fact up to the job at Test level, or do they have to get him out of the mix and look to Pollard, Lambie, Willemse, et al?
Whatever the case, this weekend is a huge game for Jantjies and his future as Springbok flyhalf.