Springboks

Boks: Boom or bust for Elton!

2018-06-21 20:04
Elton Jantjies (Getty)

Cape Town – A howling north-wester, a good likelihood of rain.

READ: Brits' unlikely Bok return to Newlands

With those expectations quite firmly on the radar for Newlands on Saturday, Elton Jantjies isn’t exactly going to be operating in most desirable conditions for him when South Africa tackle England in the third Test.

Perhaps that is exactly what Rassie Erasmus wants in the dead-rubber exercise: to gauge whether the enigmatic Jantjies can cut it at the premier level on a heavy surface.

The restoration of the 27-year-old to the No 10 shirt is one of several tinkering steps to the starting XV taken by the head coach as he prioritises – though only slightly, mind – longer-term goals over devotedly earning a 3-0 sweep against the embattled English.

The Lions pivot is understandably far more at home in dry, benign, hard-pitch circumstances for his beloved franchise, where best prospects usually arise for him to govern a game in his dynamic, sleight-of-hand style.

Newlands isn’t exactly the happiest of stomping grounds for Jantjies, either, when you consider his problematic lone season away from Johannesburg with the Stormers in 2013.

So this really amounts, potentially, to a sink-or-swim sort of outing for him in terms of his embeddedness as a Test squad presence.

His 26th cap and 19th start, in a fairly bumpy Test career stretching back to 2012, comes against a backdrop of knowledge that Handre Pollard has pretty much re-established himself as the first choice flyhalf and simply has a “semi-rest” with the series in the bag by being curtailed to the bench this time.

Given Western Cape-born Pollard’s known assuredness – and physical superiority -- in wintry conditions, this amounts to an even more rigorous examination of Jantjies’ game management out of his comfort zone.

Still, to his favour, of course, is that he gets reacquainted with Faf de Klerk, an old Lions ally before his switch to Sale Sharks, as the man one channel nearer the furnace at scrumhalf.

Given the way De Klerk used his left boot to good effect in the second Test at Bloemfontein, Jantjies may also be under less pressure to be at the fulcrum of all tactical kicking considerations.

Another assuring fact is that, even if he is hardly the most muscular customer to police the pivot area (though he lacks little in fortitude), Jantjies has some sturdy timber near him on the outside, as Sharks blockbuster Andre Esterhuizen earns a second opportunity to start for his country at No 12.

Esterhuizen, one of few to shine in Washington DC, and Jantjies are among five players who started the defeat against Wales, and now have the chance to atone by featuring again as run-on customers in a potentially winning cause.

Just as interestingly, England have also gone the flair route, if you like, at flyhalf – despite knowledge of the brewing nasty weather – by naming occasional “bad boy” Danny Cipriani as their No 10, ahead of George Ford.

Although there have been nine substitute appearances since, Cipriani hasn’t started a Test match for England since an ignominious day for them in November 2008: when the very Springboks routed them by a record 42-6 at Twickenham.

Speaking of players being fielded in environments that they would not automatically pick if given the luxury, the Boks giving exciting Bulls runner Warrick Gelant a crack at fullback – his maiden start in his favoured berth – is also a shrewd move by Erasmus to gauge whether he can tick more defence-orientated boxes in difficult, decidedly non-Highveld conditions.

There may be some spectators, especially those who paid top-tier prices for their tickets, just a little miffed that the coach has pulled out a few smooth-firing players (including Willie le Roux, Pollard and Bongi Mbonambi) from the XV for this weekend.

But give Erasmus his due: at least so far, he looks like the proverbial man with a plan … and that “plan” includes very necessary depth-swelling considerations geared toward World Cup 2019.

It also keeps all his charges, you’d think, firmly on their toes.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    springboks  |  elton jantjies  |  cape town  |  rugby
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