Elton is his own worst Bok enemy
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Cape Town – You’ve just scored a fantastic try against the world champions in their own backyard and are leading 7-3. What don’t you want to do? Drop the ball 8m from your line.
But that is exactly what Springbok flyhalf Elton Jantjies did against the All Blacks in Christchurch on Saturday. With no New Zealand player anywhere close to him, Jantjies dropped it cold, and of course, the ruthless Kiwis capitalised immediately by scoring in the right-hand corner through Israel Dagg.
Then the SA No 10 opted to run the ball out of his 22 with the score at 8-7, and although Francois Hougaard made good ground down the left, the Boks were still inside their 22. Jantjies felt the right option would be to spin the ball wide again instead of clearing his lines, but it resulted in a Francois Louw knock-on and inevitably ended in Julian Savea being handed his first ever try against the South Africans.
Jantjies also booted the kick-off at the start of the second half straight into touch, and was eventually replaced by Morné Steyn in the 60th minute. Bok coach Allister Coetzee clearly lost patience, and said in the post-match press conference that his team will be getting back “one or two experienced players” for the remaining Rugby Championship Tests against Australia (October 1) and New Zealand (October 8) on home soil.
They are likely to include Pat Lambie, who returned to the field for the Sharks on Saturday after finally getting over his concussion, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if Coetzee brought his first-choice back immediately for the Wallaby clash at Loftus Versfeld.
Jantjies made unacceptable mistakes and it’s understandable if Coetzee wants to drop the Lions No 10. The 26-year-old has now started in six out of seven Tests in 2016, and played in most of the first one against Ireland too, and has just been too inconsistent.
Jantjies is battling under the pressure, and looks like he is carrying the world on his shoulders.
His odd sublime touch is not enough to hold on to the Bok No 10 jersey if Lambie is fit again, and while he didn’t miss a goal-kick in Christchurch, he hasn’t been on song with the boot either.
But he showed again at the AMI Stadium that when he does play well on attack, he can put the Boks on the front foot. He ran hard at the advantage line when his pack won front-foot ball, and he found Warren Whiteley to his right in the build-up to Bryan Habana’s try.
He shouldn’t be thrown out of the Bok set-up entirely, as he was undoubtedly the best South African flyhalf in Super Rugby this year and has all the skills to take the Bok backline to the next level.
His mistakes are proving too costly at the moment, though, and he has been his own worst enemy at times on the Test stage.
But as much as Jantjies has to cop his fair share of blame, he is not alone. One of the major difficulties on Saturday was Faf de Klerk’s indecisiveness at the breakdown, which made Jantjies’ life even more difficult, as the scrumhalf took too long to get the ball out.
De Klerk doesn’t really assist his flyhalf in the tactical kicking stakes, and is not really a threat with ball-in-hand around the rucks either. The time has come for Francois Hougaard to be installed in his natural scrumhalf position, and Rudy Paige needs to be the specialist back-up on the bench.
While Hougaard is not known for a strong kicking game, he has much more experience and possesses the speed to keep the defence honest around the fringes.
In that regard, now is the right time to call JP Pietersen back from Leicester in England to shore up the Bok backline at wing if Hougaard shifts to No 9. Injuries to Ruan Combrinck, Seabelo Senatla and Courtnall Skosan have reduced the options out wide, and with Pietersen having had a proper pre-season at his English club and played in a few games by now, he should a bit sharper than what he was in the Irish series.
While he had his moments in Christchurch too, Johan Goosen is another who is just too shaky to continue as a makeshift fullback. A specialist is urgently required, and who better than the exciting and experienced Gio Aplon, who has been in outstanding form in France? Goosen plays in the same league, but was mainly used at outside centre by his club.
Aplon has an educated boot to go with the blistering running skills, and is well-versed in what Coetzee wants from his back-three from his days at the Stormers.
The Rugby Championship may be lost to the Boks, but Coetzee must get his team moving forward again before the end-of-year tour, where Eddie Jones’ high-riding England are lying in wait at Twickenham.