Johannesburg - Elton Jantjies may be the Lions’ crown prince, but as the last man standing he will have to take control of the Springboks’ game plan as well against France next month.
According to the SuperSport.com website, Jantjies was named as the only flyhalf in the Springbok squad by coach Allister Coetzee on Tuesday, and without a recognised back-up the Lions pivot will be a crucial part of the Bok plans at the same time as the Boks admit there is a “crisis” at pivot.
Coetzee mentioned the word on Saturday with the understanding that no other flyhalf - bar perhaps Curwin Bosch, who is with the SA Under-20s at the moment, will be able to fill the role short term.
Pat Lambie still is unavailable with concussion issues, Handre Pollard is on his way back from injury but despite his own hope to be ready for the June Tests, medical opinion is that he will be able to take part again in the second, perhaps third week in June. And even if he is fit, throwing a player like Pollard back into Test rugby without any game time may not be the best thing to do.
Coetzee mentioned both Robert du Preez and Jean-Luc du Plessis on Tuesday, and both are injured, but the next best is Kings’ journeyman Lionel Cronje and Cheetahs flyhalf Fred Zeilinga, both of whom were selected for the SA ‘A’ side.
The irony that Jantjies has never really found the same form playing for the Bok coach at either Super Rugby or international level is a concern, but the move towards a more attacking style - with Franco Smith as the new attacking coach - may well change that as well.
The hope is that the Boks will play a lot flatter - a game that Jantjies revels in at the Lions - and will therefore get the same magic out of the Lions pivot as Johan Ackermann does at provincial level.
Still, Frans Steyn - who is enjoying a stellar season in Europe - has been named as back-up to Jantjies, but his versatility may see him used in other roles as well. While it may only become clearer closer to the time, Steyn’s ability to play 12 and 15 may well be utilised early on rather than keeping him as the back-up at 10.
“It just works like that in rugby you will sometimes have a crisis in a position and it looks like that 10 is probably where we hurt the most,” Coetzee said.
“If you look at the two Stormers flyhalves, they are out, and then you have Handre Pollard out obviously. Funny enough I had a chat to Handre not so long ago and he is actually ahead of his return to train time, which is good news, but he is out, and then obviously Patrick Lambie is out we are a bit in a crisis at 10. That is where a player like Frans Steyn will add value, he has been there and done it, is playing in the French League, he is being monitored very closely and has played 10 for Montpellier this year, and has played 12 for them when he's needed to cover.”
Coetzee did say that while Bosch would be invited to future Bok camps, there is a desire among himself and Sharks coach Robert du Preez to let the young talent develop naturally and not force him into international rugby too soon.
Bosch has stood out at Super Rugby level, but the decision to rather send him to the World Rugby Junior Championships may well be a blessing in disguise as he can gain confidence and experience from playing in the tournament rather than the pressure of a test match at home in front of an expectant crowd.
“Obviously the guy who has consistently played 10 for the Sharks is Curwin Bosch. But I am of the view and I’ve discussed it with his franchise coach, that Curwin must go to the Under-20 tournament and have another good season, and dominate at that level. It is still an option for us to use Curwin, hopefully in the third test after the conclusion of the Under-20 tournament.
“If anything should happen, there is no reason why we can’t get Curwin straight back.”
Coetzee added that a number of top junior players from the SA Under-20 squad would join the Boks to begin a succession programme that would prepare the talent to step into Bok shoes when they are ready.
“Proactively in the strategic plan that we have, we will invite five young guns - of which Curwin is one - to the Springbok camp, to get to know the culture. To make sure that there is continuity going forward. I don’t think we want to ever sit in a situation where we look at who will be the next nine. We had two nines with 80 plus caps and there isn’t a nine coming through.
“This is where we are at the moment. Ruan Pienaar played over 80 caps and it was merited, but the succession planning is so important to make sure we do bring alongside those experienced players, young players to learn from them and make sure that going forward we will be covered in those positions. That is the plan with the young guns programme.”