Cape Town – The
body language … it has said it all, really.
several false starts stretching back to 2012, Elton Jantjies finally looks the
Full Monty as an international flyhalf.
As if by
sudden flick of a switch this month, he looks as if he wants it … and more
importantly he looks as if he belongs.
assured, expressive performance would have been a bonus, a sign of personal
progress, in the Springbok series against France thus far.
ones, instead, only seem to confirm a stirring coming of age at the highest
been a confident, authoritative and multi-skilled figure in the successive
Loftus and Kings Park triumphs, both achieved by margins beyond the
expectations of more cynical Bok monitors, or at least those demoralised by the
enduringly torpid events of 2016.
very little reason to believe that he is going to markedly unravel – a
phenomenon, let’s face it, that has occurred before – in the dead-rubber third
Test at his beloved Emirates Airline Park in Johannesburg on Saturday.
He will have
lost his familiar Lions scrumhalf, Ross Cronje, to a concussion-related
sit-out, but the new Jantjies doesn’t seem like the sort of character who will
be overly perturbed by that drawback, and might dovetail just as well in his
current upbeat state with either of Francois Hougaard or Rudy Paige in game
In short, he
has taken ownership of his influential position, belatedly in much the manner
he has done for several impressive seasons at Super Rugby level for the Lions.
For a long
time, it almost seemed as though Jantjies was a hapless fish out of water in
any other South African-related rugby jersey, whether it be a green and gold
one or, briefly in his problematic 2013, the kit of the Stormers.
prior uncertainty and insecurity for the Springboks has vanished, a situation
no doubt aided to a healthy extent by national coach Allister Coetzee’s
increasing recognition of the Lions’ playing-style template and heavier
staffing from those ranks in most critical berths.
extremely difficult not to surmise, either, that the ascension to the national
captaincy of Warren Whiteley, also his franchise skipper and a routinely nearby
presence to him at No 8, has been a positive development in terms of energising
Jantjies’ own game for the Boks.
wouldn’t the big personality of new assistant coach Brendan Venter, with his
trove of global wisdom and frank philosophies on rugby union, rub off well on
him, into the harmonious bargain?
26-year-old Jantjies has seemingly been empowered -- or has encouragingly
empowered himself, or both – to play so much more on instinct for South Africa,
something he has seldom found difficult for the Lions, yet previously laboured
for so long to replicate at the loftier tier.
He now looks
like the kind of “captain of his position” that Test coaches tend to so
strongly appreciate amidst their preferred XVs.
still the odd gremlin, like dropping a pretty routine high-ball receipt in the
Loftus Test. But even in that specific instance, Jantjies showed a new
toughness and resilience in Bok terms by shrugging it off (no moodiness, no
slumping of shoulders) and quickly turning constructive and clear-cut in his
pleasing has been his physical commitment, even if it should never be drummed
into him – who’d want to run the risk of devaluing in any way those lovely,
subtle hand skills? -- that this needs to somehow morph into one of his primary
nevertheless a pleasing fact that Jantjies is very gutsily taking the ball
toward the advantage line, setting up others around him for potential line
breaks or creation of overlaps even when he is not specifically engineering
them himself, and also defending his channel with a renewed zeal against raiders
both large and less fearsome.
Nor can the
place-kicking aficionados complain in any way about his authority off the tee:
Jantjies has booted over every one of seven conversion opportunities (one of
the eight Bok tries in the series so far was of the penalty variety, no longer
requiring conversion) and also been near-flawless with the penalty goals
attempted within his known acceptable range.
how much more animatedly and forcefully, too, you are seeing Jantjies, the Test
player, issue crisp instructions to his outside backs, from behind a covering
hand: “This is the plan … this is what we’re doing next.”
All of this
points to a player who has completed the circle, if you like, of proof that he
cuts it in international rugby, and that protracted spells of mental and
tactical brittleness appear banished for good.
I think it
is slightly disingenuous, too, for any lingering doubters – though their
numbers must be thinning – to suggest that this has “only been France” and that
Jantjies has thrived primarily because of their limitations.
team (certainly the one deployed in Durban) has contained the nucleus of the
playing staff who came within a whisker of upsetting eventual title-winners
England in the 2017 Six Nations at Twickenham – the visitors bossed generous periods
against Eddie Jones’s charges before being pipped 19-16.
managed a London upset, they might well have gone on to sneak the overall
spoils in the illustrious competition.
entered this series under massive pressure for a swift, meaningful renaissance,
and have collectively demonstrated that, in the two matches that have already
determined its fate.
Jantjies has been a central pillar of that near-startling turnaround.
fancy that, once fully restored to fitness and sharpness, Handre Pollard will
have the time at his disposal, and consummate ability, to healthily pressure
the incumbent for the Springbok No 10 jersey.
slightly different strengths and qualities, and that is no bad thing.
importantly, with Jantjies inching toward an inviting prime of his career and
Pollard some three seasons behind him in calendar terms, Bok flyhalf stocks
appear in good hands for the assault on RWC 2019.
though, there’s a big-lettered “hands off” notice from Jantjies to any other
comers for the jersey.
often could you say that of Elton Thomas Jantjies before?
*Follow our chief
writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing