JOHANNESBURG - Flyhalf Elton Jantjies is concerned with only one thing going into Saturday’s Super Rugby final against the Crusaders in Christchurch: serving his team and doing everything he can to make it a special day for those who are leaving the Lions at the end of the competition.
The 26-year-old isn’t worried about hitting top form, isn’t worried about proving his critics wrong, isn’t concerned about getting a right tick behind his name from Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus. “I want to serve my team, make them look good,” he said ahead of his third appearance in a Super Rugby final," he said.
“I want the players around me to enjoy themselves and hopefully I can help inspire them to do just that, to express themselves. I’ll worry about the other stuff, the decision-making; that’s my responsibility, and I’m happy to have it because I enjoy it.”
Several of Jantjies’ teammates, among them Ruan Dreyer and Franco Mostert, will play their last game for the Lions on Saturday, while the injured Jaco Kriel and the already-departed Rohan Janse van Rensburg have also called it quits at the union. Jantjies’ own future with the team is still up in the air, while there has been no word from the Lions on where Jacques van Rooyen, Cyle Brink and Lionel Mapoe will be playing their rugby next season.;
Jantjies said Saturday may be an emotional outing with so many of his friends saying goodbye next week. “It’s not about me or how I perform (this weekend),” he said. “Everything is about the team; some of my mates are leaving and I want to make it special for them too.”
Like so many of his teammates Jantjies has experienced two final losses - in 2016 and last year - and while he said those defeats would potentially help the side ahead of the Crusaders match on Saturday, the team preferred to not dwell on the past.
“There’s no pressure on us... we’ve been in two finals already and you can’t get much better preparation than that," he said. "The past is in the past, we can’t change what happened; all we can do is focus on our jobs this weekend. Everything is pretty relaxed. We’re treating this game like we treat every other week during the year. Nothing is different, except we’re the team doing the travelling.”
Jantjies, who will come up against the star of the Crusaders' team in their semi-final win against the Hurricanes, flyhalf Richie Mo’unga, said the Lions weren’t focusing on any individuals but the whole Crusaders side as a combination: “We don’t focus on individuals and it’s a system against a system anyway.
"We go into the match on the back of two good performances in the knockout rounds, but the Crusaders are a different team again. We’re going to be up against an All Blacks pack, so it’s going to be a good challenge for our forwards. But our pack has also been good this year. These are two exciting teams in the final, sides that love scoring tries, so we’re all looking forward to the match. We really just want to go out there and enjoy it and not put too much pressure on ourselves.”
So, an opportunity then to make up for the final losses suffered in Wellington and at home, at Ellis Park, last year? “It hurts... playing 20 weeks of rugby, getting to the play-offs, getting to the final, and not winning. We’ve taken experiences from those games, but we can’t reflect too much on them... this year has been different and this challenge too, will be different.”