JOHANNESBURG – The aim of the game is to ensure that when the British and Irish Lions do roll into South Africa later this year, that then Elton Jantjies will be his best self for the Springboks.
On Tuesday, the Lions Rugby Company announced that the team's skipper and stalwart flyhalf will be heading off to France to play for Top 14 club Pau as a "medical joker". The transfer is not a permanent one, but rather to afford Jantjies an opportunity to reach peak match-fitness for when the touring BI Lions do eventually invade these shores for a three match Test series against the Springboks, still scheduled to start in mid-July.
As explained by Jantjies in an interview with Independent Media on Tuesday, the deal starts with immediate effect, and was taken after consultation with all the various stakeholders involved.
Said Jantjies: "It was a collective decision in terms of myself, (SA Rugby director of rugby) Rassie Erasmus, (Lions CEO) Rudolf Straueli and (Lions coach) Cash (van Rooyen).
"It was made," Jantjies continued, "in terms of just looking at me as an individual and how we can get myself into the best possible condition and the best I can be before the BI Lions tour. I've got this opportunity to go and play in the Top 14 - it is a different competition, a different experience and there are obviously quality teams that I am going to play against.
"It is part of our preparations for the Springboks."
With the availability of world cup winner Handre Pollard still in question for the upcoming BI Lions tour, Jantjies might quite well find himself on the front-line in the coming months when the world's most famous touring team finally start their 2021 odyssey. As such, and as part of the deal struck between SA Rugby and Pau, Jantjies will be afforded game-time at the club, as early as next week ... if all goes to plan.
Upon request from Elton Jantjies and in conjunction with SA Rugby, LRC has released the player for an opportunity as medical joker with Pau in preparation for the British & Irish Lions. LRC & SA Rugby are in communication with Elton post the opportunity granted.#LionsPride pic.twitter.com/Ra3pYrcvCo— Lions (@LionsRugbyCo) April 13, 2021
"Obviously, I have to travel and get there safely first but I am definitely going to play for Pau," explained Jantjies. "That is all a part of the agreement - to make sure that I am at the top of my game and to get better every single week so that I can build towards the bigger competition for us as South Africans."
In spite of his overseas jaunt, the 30-year-old pivot will still be eligible to play for the Joburg franchise - as confirmed by both player and union. It is not immediately clear how Jantjies will be managed in such an instance, except that it could possibly be done on a match-by-match basis, with the interest of Springbok rugby the paramount consideration. It is possible that Jantjies will not be available for the Rainbow Cup, which is still being planned by SA Rugby for an April 23 start, despite reports from the UK that it had been cancelled.
The Lions will supposedly start that campaign against the Bulls at Loftus on the Saturday of that weekend, and in the absence of Jantjies will have to rely on former Cheetahs man Fred Zeilinga, Tiaan Swanepoel and a handful of versatile backs, such as Ross Cronje and Morne van den Berg, to hold station in the flyhalf position.
Jantjies is a veteran of 37 Tests, starting 24 of those, and has scored 281 points for the Boks. He made his international debut against Australia in 2012. Section Paloise - better known as Pau - are currently 13th in standings of the elite French league. They play Stade Francais next weekend, followed by bottom of the table Agen.
There are two other South Africans in the French club's squad - both props in Bok Lourens Adriaanse and journeyman Maks van Dyk.