Pollard's Bok return the end for Jantjies?

2017-11-17 13:57
Elton Jantjies (Getty)

Cape Town - When Handre Pollard runs out onto the Stade de France turf on Saturday night, he will be making his first Test start since the 2015 Rugby World Cup. 

Now 23, the Bulls pivot has had a torrid two years with injury. 

He missed the entire 2016 season (knee) and then, having just returned in 2017, was injured again when he damaged his syndesmosis joint (ankle) at Bulls training. 

Having spent the last few months fighting his way back to full fitness, Pollard has had a limited role to play at both Super Rugby and international level this year. 

He has just three caps off the bench for the Boks in 2017, taking his total tally to 23 Tests since making his debut back in 2014. 

In that time, Elton Jantjies has quietly gone about notching 21 caps of his own having started every Test this year. 

With Pollard out and Pat Lambie in France, 2017 had provided Jantjies with the perfect opportunity to make the No 10 jersey his own. 

Unfortunately for him, it hasn't quite worked out, and in his time of desperation Coetzee has turned to Pollard for Saturday's clash against the French. 

It is hard not to feel for Jantjies. 

He has been the form South African Super Rugby flyhalf for two straight seasons - nobody else has even come close - but he has struggled to adapt at international level where there are different expectations. 

At the Lions, Jantjies is encouraged to play with a freedom that allows him to think on his feet and operate almost instinctively. 

The running, high-tempo game that Johan Ackermann has now implemented at Ellis Park took years to perfect, and Jantjies was at the heart of that revolution. 

If the Boks played that way every week, then Jantjies might have enjoyed very different Test fortunes so far.

When Coetzee first took charge in a home series against Ireland last year, it looked like the Boks were heading in that very direction where fearlessness and a desire to run from anywhere were prioritised. 

But, as the results got worse and the pressure intensified, Coetzee went back into his shell and eventually called up Morne Steyn to kick the Boks to a much-needed victory over the Wallabies at Loftus in June last year. 

It was the first sign that the Boks were beginning to ditch the idea of playing Lions rugby, and perhaps the first sign that Jantjies was going to fit in.

Nowadays, Coetzee is seeking a more balanced philosophy that encourages running rugby, but only in the right situations.

Tactical kicking, as has always been the case in Test match rugby, is again a massive part of how the Boks are trying to play. 

That much was evident when they were smashed 38-3 by Ireland in Dublin this past weekend. 

Rightly or wrongly, the Boks tried and failed to kick their way to a win with contestable bombers that were nowhere near well executed enough. 

And it is, ultimately, with the boot where Jantjies has let himself down most. 

Not having the distance to kick a 40m penalty in Albany, missing a kick to win the game against Australia in Bloemfontein, that costly charge-down against the All Blacks in Cape Town ... it has all added up. 

But the biggest worry is his kicking out of hand. 

Pollard is about 20 metres longer than Jantjies off the boot and, particularly in the northern hemisphere where territory is key, that alone gives him a significant edge. 

The Boks, on the back foot going into the weekend, need to start playing their rugby in the right areas of the field and Jantjies hasn't been getting them there lately. 

The hope is that, with Pollard's extra distance and hopefully better accuracy, the Boks can start getting a hold of the game by forcing France into some pressure situations.  

Jantjies keeps a place on the bench, which is fair. 

As tough a year as it has been for the Boks, Jantjies certainly hasn't done enough wrong to be completely thrown away. Unfortunately, he also hasn't done enough right. 

The type of game that Coetzee wants his flyhalf to play simply doesn't bring out Jantjies' strengths. He is a quality playmaker, but he is at his best when he is making plays and not when he is asked to kick the Boks to victory. 

Pollard has long been tipped as the flyhalf to take the Boks forward. If it wasn’t for his run of injuries, he would surely have been Coetzee’s first-choice.  

He is back now, though, and he has a chance to resurrect his international career and deliver on the promise that has accompanied him for so long. 

But with Pollard returning and the likes of Curwin Bosch, Robert du Preez and Damian Willemse all knocking on the door, Jantjies has a serious fight on his hands to get that No 10 jersey back. 

It's a pity ... there was so much potential for it to be a good fit. 

Follow Sport24's @LloydBurnard on Twitter...

Read more on:    springboks  |  handre pollard  |  elton jantjies  |  rugby


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