In an online poll conducted not long after the All Blacks reinforced the idea that the Springboks are only the fourth best team in the world with a convincing win, the question was which Boks should “fall”?
Elton Jantjies was the crowd favourite for all the wrong reasons, with one reader opining that the Lions flyhalf was the most overrated flyhalf he’d ever seen.
And just like that, a Super Rugby season in which Jantjies helped the Lions humble the Chiefs, Blues, Crusaders and Highlanders en route to the final was reduced to a hashtag. Better yet, in a 41-13 defeat against the All Blacks the Boks’ problems were blamed on one man.
The first obvious reason for that is our obsession with the flyhalf position in a team made up of no less than 15 people.
Given that in the 24 years since international readmission, only two South African flyhalves belong in the “great” category, Joel Stransky and Henry Honiball, why have we still not worked out that the pressure we put on the players in that position is crippling them?
But the second reason we’re in such an indecent haste to draw a line under the Jantjies experiment is one we’re not prepared to admit. Some might say we don’t like Jantjies, but I prefer to say we have a complex relationship with him.
Jantjies is that thing a conservative rugby public likes to kid itself doesn’t exist – a black flyhalf with serious ability. When he arrived on the scene, he had a greasy Mohawk, tattoos, a puffed up demeanour and he kept telling us he wanted to play 100 tests for South Africa before playing five games for the Lions.
That put us on hardegat alert, and our judgment of him has been different from a seemingly malleable contemporary like Pat Lambie. We like our fly halves to look and behave in a certain way and come from a familiar background.
Jantjies not only didn’t tick those boxes, he also made public his ambitions, which made him a marked man and meant he had to prove himself every game he played.
Examples of this different set of judging standards are how the Afrikaans papers have unashamedly been counting down his “last chances” in the Bok XV since the series against Ireland in June. And when the “final straw” came, it was two mistakes – a daft knock-on that led to a New Zealand try and kicking out in the second half.
I defy anyone to tell me all the other Boks playing in Christchurch last week made less than two mistakes during the game. A related and instructive example of the double standards applied to Jantjies is Corné Krige’s pronouncement this week that Mzwandile Stick is out of his depth as Boks backs coach.
An affable man whose Bok captaincy gave us our record test defeat (53-3 against England), Geogate and Kamp Staaldraad, Krige falls into an all-too familiar South African trap in evaluating the admittedly inexperienced Stick’s suitability for the job.
Ever since some idiot christened black players quotas, it has become permissible for white South African fans to dismiss black players and coaches without finding a rugby argument for doing so. Simply put, how does Krige reckon Stick is out of his depth when defence coach Chean Roux has similar coaching experience and is doing as badly?
It speaks volumes about our lack of introspection that we don’t see how we create players like Jantjies. Gifted from the outset, his whole career has been dedicated to proving himself from the first time he represented his Florida high school because the system told him he didn’t belong.
In essence, Jantjies plays to prove us wrong and not to reward his coach for the faith put in him (if indeed it is). He also plays to prove a six-year career in which he’s led the Lions to the Currie Cup title (2011), out of the Super Rugby doldrums and the final isn’t a fluke.
We talk about his kicking: has it occurred to anyone his percentages dipped after his father, who was his kicking coach, died three years ago? And shouldn’t the fact that there isn’t a kicking coach in the Bok team at least be considered to be a factor?
Instead, we want Lambie who – competent as he is – himself is unproven despite amassing 51 caps, because he makes few mistakes and makes us feel comfortable about our vanilla rugby. Isn’t keeping things the same what has landed us in this stagnant mess in the first place?
As for Jantjies, he too should shoulder some of the blame. If he’s going to walk around puffed up like that, he’d better back it up with similar performances.
Test rugby isn’t PlayStation, where you can choose your favourite grounds, conditions and inside centres to play well.
He has the rugby intellect to make the right decisions at the right time. He just has to show us as he can’t possibly have become as unreliable overnight as he has.