Lloyd Burnard

Bok flyhalf v France? It has to be Jantjies

2017-05-04 10:29
Lloyd Burnard

Cape Town - The Springbok flyhalf for three Tests against the French in June has to be Elton Jantjies. 

It is a crucial series for coach Allister Coetzee and South African rugby. Losses to Ireland at home and Argentina and Italy away all contributed to a 2016 that saw Coetzee win just four of his first 12 Bok Tests at the helm. 

It was a return that may well have seen him sacked, but here we are and there he is. 

Now, with a rugby public that isn't expecting much, Coetzee needs to steer this ship towards something resembling stability. 

And, as is the case in any successful Test match side, he needs a flyhalf general to help him do that. 

While there is no guarantee that Jantjies is that man long-term, he is Coetzee's best bet right now. 

He is easy on the eye and thrives in a dominant Lions side that has spent four years sharpening its attacking style and skill, but Jantjies has still not convinced that he possesses the consistency and basic qualities required to be a long-term Bok No 10.

His defence is shaky, his kicking game is not consistent enough and his decision making has been questionable at the highest level. 

The Jantjies that plays with seemingly unlimited license at the Lions is not as effective when asked to play within a framework that still centres around tactical kicking and defence at the Boks. 

At Test level, the balance between trying something creative and taking the safe option is crucial, and Jantjies perhaps didn't get enough of those decisions right with the Boks in 2016. 

Jantjies started seven Tests for the Boks last year. They won three of those and have won 36.36% of the 11 Tests that Jantjies has played in since his debut in 2012.

Hardly good numbers, but a look around at the other options tells its own story.

There was a growing chorus of support for 19-year-old Curwin Bosch to be thrown into the deep end against France, but Wednesday's Junior Bok squad announcement put that argument to an abrupt halt. 

Bosch will be playing in the U-20 World Championship in Georgia in June and will be unavailable for the Boks, and that is probably a good thing.

He is still not good enough defensively - he boasts a tackle success of just 60.7% in Super Rugby this season. It is the area of his game that requires the most urgent work if he is to make the step up. 

Handre Pollard was the logical Springbok flyhalf this year, but he is sidelined with injury again and won't back any time soon. 

Pat Lambie has been injured and has been since March 11 when he fractured a vertebra in the Sharks' third game of the Super Rugby season against the Waratahs.

He is on the Sharks bench for Saturday's clash against the Force, though. His recovery is on track and he could potentially play for four matches before the June break. 

But even if Lambie is 'fit' for France, he should not be rushed back to the Boks. 

Coetzee tried that on the end-of-year tour in 2016. Lambie played just 20 minutes of Super Rugby against the Kings after recovering from his CJ Stander-induced concussion before he was given the No 10 jersey against England. 

Lambie was poor and the Boks were smashed before they were stunned by Italy a week later, again with Lambie at flyhalf. 

There is no doubt that, once Lambie is back to his best, he should be considered for Bok selection. And if that happens over the next four matches then he will come into play. 

But it doesn't seem sensible to throw him in against France, short on game time, when Jantjies has been fit and successful with the Lions all season. 

Since the beginning of 2014, Lambie has played just 19 Super Rugby matches because of injury. What he needs before he is backed in the green and gold again is an extended run with his franchise that proves that he is fit and capable. 

Coetzee’s decision to back Lambie ahead of Jantjies on the northern hemsiphere tour last year, even though he was short on game time, showed how desperate he was and it was difficult to fault at the time.

But he has to start fresh in 2017 and the priority for Lambie now is a long, injury-free run at the Sharks. 

It has often been written that Coetzee does not trust Jantjies, and sidelining him for an under-cooked Lambie would confirm that theory. 

Jantjies has not been as 'flash' for the Lions this season, but maybe that is good news considering he is still getting the job done. 

The other outsider for a Bok flyhalf berth is Kings journeyman Lionel Cronje, who has been impressive this year in making the Port Elizabeth underdogs a competitive force. 

But is Cronje good enough for the Boks, and should Coetzee back him ahead of Jantjies?  

Cronje is also poor defensively (he has made 62.1% of his tackles) while his goal-kicking percentage of 74.4% is also on the low side. 

While not match better, Jantjies' tackling success of 71.7% and goal kicking success of 81.8%, combined with his recent Test experience, provide an element of comfort that you don't get from Cronje. 

While his competitors have been dropping like flies around him for the past two seasons, Jantjies has stayed fit and been the general in South Africa's most dangerous Super Rugby team. 

And yes, the Boks and the Lions are different set-ups entirely and Test match rugby is not Super Rugby, but we need to give Jantjies the chance to prove that he learnt something from his difficult year with the Boks in 2016. 

It was a tough season for everyone and results were abysmal, but Jantjies didn't do enough wrong to warrant being tossed away, especially now with Pollard injured and Lambie only just returning. 

When you look at his individual skills, there is no reason why Jantjies can't be the flyhalf South Africa needs. 

He has a long enough boot, he can kick his goals, he has the ability to facilitate the attacking rugby that everyone seems to want and he has shown that, when he gets it right, his tactical kicking can be on point. 

The two major areas of concern with Jantjies are defence and consistency. And while those are two significantly big areas, he should be given the France series to show that he has used his failures of 2016 to emerge a better player. 

Right now, there just isn’t anyone better. 

Read more on:    springboks  |  lloyd burnard  |  elton jantjies  |  rugby
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