‘Unsurprisingly, Elton Jantjies is the man of the match. The perfect flyhalf performance today, he was just incredible’
That’s how Sport24’s live commentary described the Lions flyhalf in their 2016 home semi-final 42-30 win against the defending champion Highlanders.
Jantjies scored 22 points and controlled the match as the Lions hammered the Kiwis.
Argentinean flyhalf Nico Sanchez took to Twitter to rave about Jantjies' performance and legendary All Blacks captain Sean Fitzpatrick was equally impressed with Jantjies, tweeting that the Lions No 10 dominated the game in a very good Lions performance.
Highlanders captain Ben Smith afterwards lauded the Lions as simply being too good. There was no excuse of travel offered from Smith. He said the Lions played at a tempo and pace his team couldn’t match and that they were simply outstanding in getting the win. He also singled out the performance of the Lions No 10.
A week before that the Lions whipped the Crusaders 42-25 in the quarter-final. The Lions scored five tries and Jantjies kicked 17 points with four conversions, a drop goal and two penalties.
The Crusaders fielded 10 All Blacks in their starting XV, including All Blacks captain Kieran Read and the core of the All Blacks tight five. They were blown off the park by an irresistible Lions performance, which would be transferred to Ellis Park a week later against the Highlanders.
Jantjies scored four conversions, three penalties and a try, which meant he scored in every possible way in the two playoff matches.
My point is that Jantjies has been there and done it against the very best in Super Rugby, and there should be no doubting his ability to do it again on Saturday in the semi-final against the Hurricanes.
No one is disputing the class of the Hurricanes but there was plenty class in the line-ups of the Crusaders and Highlanders in 2016, and the Lions, at home and rampant, smashed them.
Why is the default mechanism among so many South Africans to focus on the Lions league defeat against the Hurricanes in 2016 and not on their imposing home form in the playoffs against two of New Zealand’s best teams?
It won't any difference to the Lions performance that they haven’t played a New Zealand team this season. The Lions won't want for anything in terms of preparation and the Lions of 2017 are very much a carbon copy of the outstanding Lions of 2016.
They’re a bloody good side, who a year ago played second fiddle only to the Hurricanes, who in 2017 have also played second fiddle to a few of their New Zealand rivals.
Jantjies, who was superb for the Springboks against the French, experienced a rare off day with the boot in the quarter-final against the Sharks.
Jantjies can kick and his Super Rugby and Test career goalkicking strike rate is closer to 80 percent than 75. He gets them over more than he misses and he certainly gets them over in the biggest games.
If his temperament was an issue he wouldn’t have been man of the match in the Super Rugby semi-final against the Highlanders and he also wouldn’t have been brilliant in scoring 24 points in a match-winning Currie Cup final.
With Jantjies it seems to be a case of his one miss always being remembered and the nine successes being accepted as part of his contribution.
Jantjies, in the last two seasons, has been South Africa’s most impressive and consistent performer at flyhalf in Super Rugby.
He will be pivotal to any Lions win against the Hurricanes in Johannesburg.
Can the Lions win?
Of course they can win!
Are they any bit inferior to the Hurricanes, in terms of pedigree and performance? No.
It has surprised me how easily the Kiwi analysts have dismissed the challenge of the Lions against the Hurricanes, especially when the match is being played in Johannesburg.
The Lions aren’t as vulnerable as the Kiwis would like to believe and the Hurricanes aren’t quite as unstoppable, if those same Kiwis are to be believed.
The Kiwi analysts it would appear haven’t learned much from writing off a team carrying the name of the Lions.
The British and Irish Lions upstaged the All Blacks in securing a drawn series and the South African version of the Lions can go one better by beating New Zealand’s two best sides in the next fortnight to secure a first ever Super Rugby title.
South Africans must stop putting everything that is New Zealand rugby on a pedestal because the Lions are easily the equal of New Zealand’s very best Super Rugby teams and, when playing at home, they are better.
Mark Keohane is a Cape-Town based award-winning rugby specialist and former Springbok Communications Manager. Follow him on Twitter
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