Cape Town - The hype surrounding Lions flyhalf Elton Jantjies is gathering momentum.
With Springbok flyhalves Handre Pollard and Pat Lambie out injured, Jantjies is emerging as the overwhelming favourite to pull on the No 10 jersey in Allister Coetzee's first match in charge against Ireland in Cape Town on June 11.
Jantjies has been at the heart of an enterprising Lions side this Super Rugby season that has moved ahead of the Sharks to lead the second Africa conference.
With the Lions having completed their New Zealand tour and the Sharks only just beginning their trip abroad, the Johannesburgers will be backing themselves to stretch their lead over the next few weeks.
It all starts with Saturday night's clash against the Stormers at Ellis Park, and Jantjies is set to play a key role once more.
The 25-year-old spent 2013 at Newlands as the Stormers narrowly missed the play-offs, but he has come a long way since then.
"2013 was a tough year for Elton," said Stormers centre Damian de Allende, who will start from the bench on Saturday as he continues his comeback from an ankle injury.
"In 2013 I think we
struggled as a team.
"There wasn’t a lot of confidence in that team and I don’t
think he had confidence in himself as a result."
De Allende says that Jantjies will be a major threat to the Stormers, but that there was a plan in place for him.
"He is playing very good rugby;
I’ve got a lot of respect for him. Hopefully our loose trio this week can slow
down their ball and sort out their rucks … I think that’s where we can expose
"It can be quite tough (defending against Jantjies) ... especially if he's got a guy running off him. It's just how we manage our defence around that."
The Stormers, meanwhile, are fielding a flyhalf starting just his second Super Rugby match in Jean-Luc du Plessis.
think he’s a good player. He’s got good skill," De Allende said of the Stormers pivot.
"What’s nice is that he hasn’t
been boxed in. He’s been allowed to express himself on the field and that’s
important in rugby.
"I think he’s playing with his personality. Once he gets a
bit more experience and he learns how to talk on the field and take charge a
bit more, he’ll be a great player. I really do see a lot of potential in him."
Kick-off on Saturday is at 19:15.
15 Jaco van der Walt, 14 Ruan Combrinck, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Rohan Janse van Rensburg, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Ross Cronje, 8 Warren Whiteley, 7 Warwick Tecklenburg, 6 Jaco Kriel, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Andries Ferreira, 3 Julian Redelinghuys, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Dylon Smith
Substitutes: 16 Armand van der Merwe, 17 Corne Fourie, 18 Ruan Dreyer, 19 Ruan Ackermann, 20 Cyle Brink, 21 Faf de Klerk, 22 Howard Mnisi, 23 Andries Coetzee
15 Cheslin Kolbe, 14 Kobus van Wyk, 13 Johnny Kotze, 12 Juan de Jongh (co-captain), 11 Leolin Zas, 10 Jean-Luc du Plessis, 9 Nic Groom, 8 Schalk Burger, 7 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 6 Nizaam Carr, 5 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 4 JD Schickerling, 3 Vincent Koch, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 JC Janse van Rensburg
Substitutes: 16 Mike Willemse, 17 Oli Kebble, 18 Frans Malherbe (co-captain), 19 Rynhardt Elstadt, 20 Siya Kolisi, 21 Louis Schreuder, 22 Damian de Allende, 23 Huw Jones