Cape Town – Springbok flyhalf Elton
Jantjies seems stuck a little painfully on a barbed-wire fence … trying to play
the intended Springbok way but irresistibly drifting into his beloved Lions’ more
risk-accepting modus operandi in Super Rugby.
It has made for relatively uncomfortable,
mixed-bag watching in the Test season so far, with the consequence being
flashes of solo genius and game-breaking from the baby-faced talent, mixed with
some ropey decision-making, tactical inaccuracy and rank errors from the No 10.
Jantjies is currently, awkwardly betwixt
and between … which explains why he is earning only moderate ratings, at very
best, in the eyes of many astute Bok onlookers despite his enduringly obvious
Given that he operates in such a critical
conduit position for any team’s strategic intentions, it is becoming
increasingly urgent that he and the national coach begin singing more uniformly
from the same song-sheet.
I certainly don’t believe that Jantjies is
consciously trying to force “his way” on playing style at the expense of the coach’s
… we may also never know precisely, anyway, what is whispered in his ears by
Coetzee in terms of directional goals.
If there are occasions where he is given
the specific liberty to play things as he sees them, then perhaps the
left-footer has simply been doing that, albeit with some hot and cold results
But Coetzee has also historically appeared quite
strongly drawn at first-class level toward pivots – think Peter Grant and
Demetri Catrakilis for his Stormers teams of the past -- who lean more toward
security and structural “obedience” than mercurial qualities, so in many
respects Jantjies might be considered reasonably deviant to his philosophy.
Throw in the fact that new Bok scrumhalf
Faf de Klerk, for all his admirable, tenacious qualities against both Ireland
during June and much more recently at Mbombela Stadium, is more renowned for
his massive energy levels and stealth than truly commanding game management,
and the Boks have a recipe in both berths more for unpredictability than any predetermined
All that would be fine if, for instance,
Coetzee was as determined as Lions coach Johan Ackermann clearly is to emulate
fast and fluid New Zealand playing styles, but I don’t believe the national
coach is quite ready -- rightly or wrongly – to throw all Bok “traditional
strengths” out of the window.
He is probably keener to still build an
innings, as they say in cricketing parlance, aided in no small measure by the
previously successful template by the Springboks of establishing (or at least
attempting to) a no-nonsense physical and field-position grip before resorting
to more expansive aspects.
Why I am personally, almost inevitably
partial to Jantjies is for the very reason that, in the Super Rugby landscape
earlier this year, he often looked our closest to – and sometimes pretty
comfortably the parallel of – several of the fleet-footed premier flyhalves
from the Land of the Long White Cloud, like Beuden Barrett and Aaron Cruden.
That said, many of his most sparkling
performances came at his hard and fast Emirates Airline Park home venue, and
the jury is very much still out about his ability to put a more pragmatic stamp
on things when the game-plan requires it or conditions are heavier and more
greasy (as they were in the come-from-behind Lowveld victory over Argentina on
The Boks ought yet to have to play many
more Tests this year on lush, pretty sluggish surfaces and possibly even in
rain and mud, bearing in mind the Christchurch clash with the All Blacks on
September 17, the fact that the home game against them on October 8 will not be
on the Highveld (it’s at Kings Park) and then a traditional tour of winter
northern climes looming beyond.
It is probably also not inaccurate to
submit that, despite now boasting six Test appearances (though a mere three
have been starts so far, in fairness), the 26-year-old is yet to produce the
sort of consistently confident or precise showings for South Africa that have
marked his Lions duties one tier below.
I hope, and suspect, that Jantjies will
remain in the starting mix for the fast follow-up match against the Pumas in
Salta on Saturday – incidentally, the long-range forecast is for warm and dry
For one thing, Coetzee would earn some
strong wrath from the big pro-Jantjies lobby if he lost his conviction this
soon in the sometimes fragile-of-temperament playmaker.
At the same time, the player himself needs
to keep working on his accuracies, including off the important kicking tee --
he left a few points out there in the Nelspruit nail-biter.
There may be some significance in the fact
that, despite the presence of big-booted utility back and current No 15 Johan
Goosen in the squad, veteran general kicking maestro Morne Steyn has remained a
squad member for the trek to South America.
Make no mistake, the Boks, after their
nasty close shave at Mbombela, will be targeting mere victory in Argentina above
any prettiness in performance, and that doesn’t automatically aid Jantjies’
Still, the good things he did last weekend
were sometimes close to sublime – including that magical line-break from
halfway out in the seventh minute which eventually led to the most eye-catching
of the Springboks’ three tries on the day: it included a suitably swift
presentation off the deck despite being “monstered” in the tackle by two Pumas
Broadly speaking, nevertheless, the
“marriage” between Coetzee and his first-choice flyhalf hasn’t quite been one
made in the intended heaven yet.
If Salta proves fickle and inconclusive
once more for Jantjies, it could become strained to the point of divorce.
our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing