Cape Town – Since 2018, Elton Jantjies has played in just 18 Test matches for the Springboks – 10 off the bench and eight as a starter.
In that same period, Handre Pollard has featured in 31 games, starting in 28 and playing as a replacement in three.
Now Pollard is the first-choice Bok flyhalf, but with his form fluctuating in 2021, Saturday’s clash against Wales in Cardiff was an ideal opportunity for coach Jacques Nienaber to hand Jantjies the No.10 jersey.
The 31-year-old has to be content with a place among the reserves once again, despite having starred in the second half of the Boks’ last Test match, the memorable 31-29 victory over the All Blacks in Australia.
In that encounter at the Cbus Super Stadium on the Gold Coast, Jantjies came on in the second half when the Boks were 20-17 down and produced some outstanding pieces of play that helped the South Africans triumph.
He showed good hands on the left to put Makazole Mapimpi over for a try, and then took the goal-kicking over from Pollard after the latter missed the conversion.
Jantjies then slotted a terrific drop goal to put the Boks 28-26 ahead with a few minutes to go, and also kept his nerve to knock over the match-winning penalty in the final play of the game.
But apart from that, he needs to get much more regular game time over the next few seasons to be properly prepared for the 2023 Rugby World Cup. In fact, with Pollard battling in most aspects of his game at the moment, Jantjies should be given the opportunity to fight for the starting berth as well.
The way in which he lines up flat on attack and brings his backline into play adds a new dimension to the Bok approach, compared to the deep-lying Pollard, who is more of a strike-runner than a playmaker.
In terms of the growth of the South African team before the next World Cup, they need to explore what Jantjies offers much more than what they have up to now.
It is not only about rewarding Jantjies’ form and giving Pollard a bit of a breather from the red-hot coalface of Test rugby, but also about being fully prepared for France 2023.
The Boks were a bit fortunate to escape any real difficulties due to not employing a recognised flyhalf on the bench at the 2019 World Cup, necessitated by the decision to opt for a six-two bench split in favour of the forwards. Frans Steyn was the man who had to cover all the outside-back positions, but with Pollard on song in the three playoff games against Japan, Wales and England, Steyn wasn’t really needed.
That may not necessarily be the case in France in two years’ time, and that is when someone like Jantjies might be needed.
In addition, Morné Steyn’s retirement from international rugby has opened a gap in the Bok squad, which was set to be taken by Johan Goosen. But the Bulls pivot has been ruled out of rugby for possibly nine months now due to a knee ligament injury, and his franchise coach Jake White has said he will treat the situation conservatively, which may mean Goosen will only be back on the field next September.
There isn’t another flyhalf seriously pushing for a Bok spot, so Jantjies needs to be given more starting opportunities, and hopefully that will happen against Scotland next weekend.