JOHANNESBURG – Last weekend Stormers pivot Damian Willemse got the chance to measure himself against Handre Pollard of the Bulls and on Saturday at Ellis Park it is Springbok incumbent No 10 Elton Jantjies who’ll oppose the new hotshot flyhalf prospect.
While both the Lions and Stormers will be desperate to pick up a win after suffering rare Super Rugby defeats last weekend, many eyes will be on the two men in the No 10 jerseys.
The far more experienced Jantjies has had a fairly quiet season, perhaps a sign he is now the complete player who hardly makes mistakes and simply gets on with doing his job, while Willemse, 21, has caught the eye with his dazzling running and silky-smooth distribution skills.
But while the fans will see the match as a mini Springbok trial, Jantjies doesn’t see it that way.
“Rugby is a 15-man game and it’s not about Elton versus Damian; it’s not about me competing with individuals,” he said yesterday. “It’s more about me ensuring the nine, 10 and 12 work together, and what the Lions do as a team.”
He did, however, express his delight in South African rugby now having a number of flyhalves playing Super Rugby who are good enough to play for the Boks, with Willemse no doubt one of them.
“We haven’t had so much depth for a while, and you can’t ignore that, especially after Pat (Lambie) and Morne (Steyn) left. It’s good for SA rugby.”
Besides Jantjies and Willemse who are vying to play Test rugby under new coach Rassie Erasmus in June, Rob du Preez and Pollard will also hope they have received a few ticks behind their names so far this season.
Asked what advice he’d give Willemse, who is making big strides at a young age, just like he did, Jantjies said: “He must just keep doing what he’s doing, keep learning.
He must also keep an open mind; as a youngster you often want to do your own thing, but it’s important to feed off others, take advice from the players around you. If he does that it’ll relieve some of the pressure on him, and he must enjoy his rugby.”
It has been a tough few weeks for the Lions, losing three out of four matches, but the Lions flyhalf was as relaxed as ever yesterday.
“I don’t see this as a tough time,” said Jantjies. “It’s something we can fix quickly so there are no major concerns. We just need to keep working hard, raise our efforts, and the results will come.
“Obviously we’re not happy with the mistakes we’re making inside our system and need to take responsibility on the field, but all we can do is make sure we pitch up on Saturday, focus on ourselves, play for 90 minutes and keep driving at our standards.
“It’s a big game against the Stormers but we must forget about the result, enjoy the game, focus on scoring tries and then we’ll get there.”
Jantjies has been a Lions stalwart for a good few seasons now and he’s reached plenty of highs, but it’s still the successes of his teammates that make him the happiest.
“To inspire the guys around me, that’s what’s satisfying. To see Lionel (Mapoe) score a try, to see Madosh (Tambwe) get a start last weekend and score a brilliant try... Boeboes (Andries Coetzee) making a line-break, Harold (Vorster) playing with confidence, players feeling comfortable...”