Rugby Championship

High school coach remembers 'leader of the pack' Jantjies

2019-08-02 12:37
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Cape Town - When Hein Kriek met teenager Herschel Jantjies back in 2012, he was immediately struck by the stature of the then-16-year-old. 

"The first thing you think when you see Herschel is 'small'," Kriek told Sport24 this week just outside the impressive Paul Roos Gimnasium archive room, where the achievements of past pupils are displayed.

"He's not the biggest player out there."

Jantjies' success is so recent that the school is still in the process of getting his name printed on the Springbok Honours board. 

He is the 54th product of Paul Roos to play for the Boks.

The 53rd was Damian Willemse, and between 2013 and 2015, Kriek coached both in the first team. 

When Kriek (42) met Jantjies, he was playing as a fullback at U16 level. 

Thankfully, that changed, because what followed was two years of Jantjies finding his feet as a No 9 who would go on to do big things. 

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Herschel (right) and Paul Roos half-back partner Edwill van der Merwe.

"He is going to become one of South Africa's greatest," long-serving Paul Roos team manager Tassie Pieterse believes. 

Whether or not that materialises remains to be seen, but Jantjies has certainly made the right initial steps. 

The 23-year-old burst onto the international stage with a man-of-the-match performance against the Wallabies two weekends ago and then a match-saving try against the All Blacks in Wellington this past weekend. 

The start to Jantjies' international career has been storming, to say the least, and it has catapulted into the international spotlight. 

All the way through school, Jantjies' size never prevented him from being a leader, respected by his coaches and peers, and that is a quality he has carried through to his professional career. 

"Herschel has been a fighter his whole life. He didn't play SA Schools ... but as you can see, every opportunity he gets he makes the most of," said Kriek.

"2014 comes to mind and we played Paarl Boys here in a tight game. Herschel scored the first try, breaking on the blindside and he bounced the wing, taking two guys over the try line with him.

"That's the way he plays. We have a saying in Afrikaans: klein botteltjies, groot gif (small bottles, strong poison). I've never been afraid to put him on the pitch.

"It gives confidence to the other players when the smallest guy in the team is taking on the other guys physically. That commands respect from his peers."

Paul Roos beat Paarl Boys' High 17-13 that day for a famous win, and it all started with Jantjies bulldozing his way over against much bigger players. 

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Despite his size, Jantjies has never been afraid to tackle ...

Another moment Kriek remembers well came a year earlier in 2013, also on the famous Markotter Paul Roos field, when Jantjies sniped off the base of a ruck to score a last-minute try that secured his side a 22-22 draw against rivals Bishops.

By the end of that season, Jantjies was out with a broken arm. 

He bounced back strong, though, and went on to play his second year of Carven Week for Western Province.

"He is unbelievably skilful and hardworking and if you give him something to do he does it 120% flat out," Kriek says.

"He is always leading the pack ... charging from the front."

Jantjies' rise to the top has been meteoric, and he is now on the verge of realising a dream by being included in the squad for the 2019 World Cup in Japan. 

It is a lot for him to take in. 

"Knowing the boy, he will deal with it and put his mind to it," said Pieterse.

"He was and always will be humble, in my opinion. He'll be okay," added Kriek.

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Brothers ...

 

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