Brenden Nel - SuperSport.com
Cape Town - Lions flyhalf Elton Jantjies has a simple message that will echo through his teammates ahead of Saturday’s Super Rugby final against the Crusaders – there should be no fear.
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Jantjies said he personally didn’t fear the Crusaders even though they were defending champions and have a perfect record of 20 wins out of 20 in playoff games over the history of Super Rugby.
Jantjies suggested that the Lions should rather draw on their own internal strength and focus on the road they have been on in growing as a side over the past few years. He is urging his team to believe in their own abilities, even though the odds may be stacked against them in Christchurch.
“I promise, I don’t have a fear for them, but I think the biggest thing for this group is the way the guys have been learning every single time we play together,” Jantjies said.
“We have been together for three, four or five years and some of us a bit longer. And if you look at how this group has grown. We had that historical win, that I always refer back to when we played in Hamilton against the Chiefs, the first time we beat them there. Those are things that come up in my mind every time, coming up against a New Zealand team or even the Waratahs, they are a quality Australian outfit.
“But, just the unity and the systems we have in place at the Lions, you can’t describe the culture we have and the amount of things we have as a group. Ja, we are just going to go out there and enjoy ourselves. We won’t put a lot of pressure on ourselves as a team or individuals.”
Jantjies said the team didn’t travel all the way to New Zealand simply to be cannon fodder for the Crusaders and would be looking to believe in themselves and their own fighting spirit as the catalyst for their own chances this weekend.
“It hurts if you are playing 20 weeks of rugby and getting into the final and then you don’t win it. But then again you are taking experience out of it and you are learning from those mistakes. We can’t reflect on last year, it is totally different, a different format in terms of getting to the playoffs.
“We even had to beat the Bulls with bonus points to get a home playoff. It is different, we went through a roller-coaster year this year with a lot of on and off the field stuff. Again we are going back to the culture and what we stand for and the guys are going for anything that is coming up in front of this team.
“We don’t feel pressure because we prepare well. I mean, if you’ve been in two finals in a row and now you are in a third, you can’t look for much better preparation in terms of playing Super Rugby finals.
“The past is the past, you can’t change it. We just have to focus on this week, making sure we get there, getting the bodies fresh and then making sure we can get going on Saturday.”
Jantjies said while small changes would be made to the game plan, most things would stay the same. He was also looking forward to the duel with Richie Mo’unga.
“We’ve had our session. Nothing will change but obviously there is a certain way we will prep for them, they are a quality team and we won’t take that away from them but it will be focused on us. It will be what mistakes we can fix from last weekend’s game because there is still another few things we want to tweak in our game plan as well, some things we want to fix or things we want to improve on.
“We don’t focus on individuals, it’s the Crusaders playing the Lions, it is one system versus another system. He (Richie Mo’unga) is obviously a quality player who loves space and he has quality people around him like Ryan (Crotty). It is going to be a quality game, that I can assure you of, because it will be two teams that love scoring tries. We were the same with tries this year and I am looking forward to it. “
While much will depend on whether Jantjies can reach his peak on Saturday, the flyhalf was more concerned with how he could make his teammates look good.
“I will be at my peak when I retire, so I still have a few more years to go. I want to improve as an individual every single week, I want to serve my team as much as possible, I want to inspire them, I want to make them look good and make them believe in themselves on the field. I will take the other stuff, I will take the decision-making, it is just for them to express themselves.
“I will take the decisions, when to run, when to pass and when to kick, and I like that responsibility. But ja, we have a great leadership group as well with Warren (Whiteley), Sous (Franco Mostert) and Ross (Cronje) also playing good rugby.
“Nothing can change. Obviously we will have to change our gameplan and we are facing a different opponent, we are facing an All Black pack and that is a good challenge for the guys up front. Our forwards have been producing some good performances this year and I am really looking forward for them going head to head with international players and then obviously it is just for us backs to score some tries.”
The Lions lost their corresponding fixture in the final last year in Johannesburg to the Crusaders.
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