CAPE TOWN – If a flyhalf can take his team to three consecutive Super Rugby finals, it has to say something about his ability. This is the opinion of Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus on Lions No 10 Elton Jantjies.
Jantjies is one of the players in Erasmus’ 35-squad for the Rugby Championship, a group which includes three uncapped players in Damian Willemse, Cyle Brink and Marco van Staden.
The Lions No 10 again copped criticism for his performance in the Super Rugby final against the Crusaders at the weekend, but Erasmus is confident Jantjies has the ability to perform in high-pressure situations - it’s just something they need to work on.
“There’s no doubt about Elton’s talent. We must find a way to get him back to his best at the highest level,” Erasmus said.
“Elton is the obvious choice at No 10 if Pollard goes down with an injury. Sure, he’s had a few hiccups. I’m not trying to defend him, but you must remember he has played a lot of rugby - Super Rugby and in Japan - over the past few years without a break and you have to look at the fact he’s taken his team to three finals consecutively.”
While Jantjies is second in line, the other flyhalf option is Willemse, while Pat Lambie although still in Erasmus’ plans, is unavailable due to injury until at least February.
And Erasmus believes Willemse is prepared to step up to the big stage
Ahead of the series against England, Erasmus was of the opinion that some game time in the World Rugby Under-20 Championship with Chean Roux’s Junior Boks would do the 20-year-old some good.
“We’ve seen the way Damian played for the Stormers this season. He is physically ready for Test rugby, even at the age of 20,” he said. “He reminds me of Frans Steyn, a guy who is ready to play Test rugby from a very young age. He will get his chance against Argentina.”
Erasmus added that a stint at fullback could help Willemse build his game and learn from the situations he’d be able to get a view of from the back.
“The No 10 is your quarterback. He is the guy who has to take control. At this point, though, it may be a better idea to play Damian at 15 where there is less pressure.”
Up front, Erasmus is expecting to see Siya Kolisi take his game to another level during the Rugby Championship.
Kolisi was appointed captain for the three-Test series against England - a position he has retained - and he could now find himself in a different role on the field at some stage during the competition.
During a press conference in Stellenbosch following the announcement of a 35-man squad yesterday, the SA Director of Rugby entertained the possibility of fielding Kolisi, Marco van Staden and Francois Louw in the same back row at some point in the upcoming campaign.
“It’s a no-brainer to keep Siya on as captain,” Erasmus said on the captaincy, seeing that Warren Whiteley and Eben Etzebeth are also in the mix.
“Now that all the hoo-ha of him getting the captaincy has died down, and now that it’s a more comfortable thing for him, we may see Siya taking his game to another level.”
“It was a very emotional time for him...not in a bad way, but there were just a lot of emotions.”
“I’ve always thought he (Kolisi) was a stronger counter-rucker (as opposed to a fetcher). With his lineout ability, he’s an excellent option at blindside flank. It will be nice to build a back row around a player like Siya.”
Duane Vermeueln, who was massive in the Boks’2-1 series win over England, isn’t available for the Rugby Championship.
Van Staden - whose performances with the Bulls put him on the Bok radar before injury denied him the opportunity - also seems to be somebody that Erasmus is excited about.
“Marco would have started the Tests against England if not for that injury,” said Erasmus. “I coached Flo quite a bit and I know what he can offer in that role. He did really well at No 8 against the All Blacks at Newlands last year.”
“We may play both of those guys in the same starting lineup for a specific game in the Rugby Championship.”
The other uncapped loose forward, Lions man Cyle Brink, will be assessed when he joins the squad in Stellenbosch tomorrow after concerns arose about an existing shoulder (nerve) injury.”
“Cyle has been on the radar for some time. He’s like Duane in the sense that he’s an ‘in-between’ player. He can offer you a lot as a blindside and can also play a role on the you a lot as a blindside and can also play a role on the ground.”
Regarding Etzebeth’s return after not having played a single game this year due to nerve damage in his neck and shoulder and a subsequent back injury sustained during training, Erasmus said that things are looking up for the Bok lock.
“Eben has been training with us for the past week or so. He’s one of the fittest guys in the squad. He will still need to see a specialist. We just need to tick that medical box.”
“If that happens, I won’t hesitate to consider him. His lack of game time doesn’t bother me.”
The Springbok squad is:
Forwards: Cyle Brink, Jean-Luc du Preez, Thomas du Toit, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Eben Etzebeth, Steven Kitshoff, Siya Kolisi (c), Francois Louw, Wilco Louw, Frans Malherbe, Malcolm Marx, Bongi Mbonambi, Franco Mostert, Tendai Mtawarira, Sikhumbuzo Notshe, Marvin Orie, RG Snyman, Akker van der Merwe, Marco van Staden, Warren Whiteley.
Backs: Lukhanyo Am, Ross Cronjé, Faf de Klerk, Aphiwe Dyantyi, André Esterhuizen, Elton Janjies, Jesse Kriel, Willie le Roux, Makazole Mapimpi, Lionel Mapoe, Lwazi Mvovo, Embrose Papier, Handré Pollard Ivan van Zyl, Damian Willemse.