PE: Definitive game for Elton?

2016-06-21 13:06
Elton Jantjies (Gallo)

 Cape Town – Promise demonstrated … perfection rather more elusive.

That is how you could fairly sum up Elton Jantjies’s showing in the Springbok flyhalf channel thus far in the series against Ireland.

Saturday’s decider at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium will give us a much clearer picture of where the Bok side as a whole under Allister Coetzee’s fledgling tenure as coach is heading, whilst Jantjies is one of the individuals about whom many critics and fans are likely to deliver a reasonably emphatic yay or nay afterwards in terms of future potential for the cause.

Frankly, nothing less than a clear-cut victory to seal the honours 2-1 seems the recipe for hiking public confidence in the current Bok crop, who came within a dangerous whisker in Johannesburg of a shock, early series defeat which would have made Port Elizabeth a depressingly dead-rubber exercise.

It is history now that several demonic efforts off the bench in the second half helped spare further blushes at Emirates Airline Park, whilst in a largely unconvincing starting XV, Jantjies was one of the better features on the day – albeit that that isn’t saying too much.

In his defence to quite a strong degree is that the Lions playmaker, magical at times in Super Rugby 2016, came into the series ever so slightly fast-tracked off a finger injury which may yet be acting as a minor impediment to both his best physical and mental levels.

He also made a sudden entry to proceedings during the Newlands defeat, following the unfortunate pole-axing of Pat Lambie in the 23rd minute, and earned mixed appraisals for the way he directed things for the remainder of that contest.

Some would argue that genuine “direction” was less evident than it should have been from him, on a day when a headless-chicken mentality permeated other Bok berths, although he produced one brilliant little inside off-load to tee up Lwazi Mvovo’s try.

Keep in mind, too, that when the second Test came along, Jantjies was making his starting debut, despite being first capped for the country back in 2012.

And it wasn’t all plain sailing on his beloved franchise home ground: deft touches and periods of tactical assuredness by him were accompanied by some shaky moments on defence or in aerial contest, a frustrating missed touch from a penalty and some inconsistency off the tee.

He ended up with a five-from-eight record at the posts on Saturday, although his blemishes included misses in quick succession from roughly the same angle on the left.

Still, added to his three-out-of-three record at Newlands (albeit largely simple kicks then) Jantjies currently sports an acceptable series strike rate at the posts of 72.7 percent; Paddy Jackson is on 78.6 for the Irish.
But we also still await Jantjies producing a game-managing performance of real authority, as he grapples with the transition from the franchise coaching of Johan Ackermann and company to the slightly different demands of the Coetzee regime at green-and-gold level.

You get the feeling that the wily, tenacious Irish are slightly “targeting” Jantjies for roughhouse treatment, albeit mostly within the bounds of the laws, given that he is not the biggest specimen to patrol what is a key channel both on attack and defence – certainly he is no Handre Pollard for ability to soak up or even hand out big hits.

With Damian de Allende still well off his A-game from a tackling and organisational point of view at inside centre, Ireland are sure to have a dart in those critical infield areas in Port Elizabeth.

It is additionally important for Jantjies -- who turns 26 on August 1, so he is no first-class novice – to put some sort of stamp on proceedings because his similarly Test experience-shy scrumhalf, Faf de Klerk, is not a natural “bossing” character in that position in the mould of a Fourie du Preez who used to take much of the pressure off his No 10 through his own awareness and firm, astute decision-making and execution.

From a pure talent point of view, Jantjies, who earned admiration even from the swaggering, imperious terrain of New Zealand for some of his Super Rugby exploits a few weeks back, stands back to very few counterparts in his spot.

But sooner rather than later, we could do with firm evidence that he belongs at Test level, and isn’t just a lethal talisman one rung lower down.

The cauldron of a series decider on Saturday, and his fifth appearance for South Africa, could be the perfect place to confirm he can keep a recovered Lambie – and possibly others – at bay for the even weightier demands of the Rugby Championship.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    springboks  |  elton jantjies  |  rugby

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