Expert: Elton thriving despite Lions' woes
Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
The Lions seemed to be sinking fast in Super Rugby by the time the coronavirus interrupted the season ... but Elton Jantjies had more than held his head above water.
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That is the observation of renowned South African kicking specialist Vlok Cilliers, the former Springbok and SA Sevens player working with the French national team as a consultant in the lead-up to the next World Cup there in 2023.
Although committed recently to the now-halted Six Nations, where France were joint-top on points with England, Cilliers still kept a close eye on Super Rugby in the southern hemisphere.
He told Sport24 he felt Jantjies, the Lions' flyhalf and 2020 captain, had maintained high personal standards despite his team's one-win-in-six record and current lowly 13th place on the overall table.
"It is a sign of a quality player when you can shine even when there are difficulties all around you ... the Lions have lost so many experienced players in the last couple of years, and their slide this season doesn’t surprise me too much," Cilliers told Sport24.
"Elton has still managed to play bright rugby, enough to keep him comfortably the main guy as Handre Pollard's back-up in the Springbok set-up, I believe."
During the highly successful Bok charge in 2019 - triumph in both the abbreviated Rugby Championship and then at RWC 2019 - then-Bok coach Rassie Erasmus' pecking order at pivot was generally considered to be Pollard, Jantjies and then the more youthful Damian Willemse.
The mastermind did not have a specialist flyhalf on the bench when the Boks trounced England 32-12 in the World Cup final, though primarily because he went for a 6-2 bench split between forwards and backs and risked having versatile backline veteran Frans Steyn as Pollard's potential stand-in in an emergency.
Cilliers said it was an inescapable fact that Willemse was "struggling a bit" for the Stormers in Super Rugby 2020.
"He is still seeking a bit of an identity in his playing style. Must he make contact? Must he just be a link? Must he kick more ... or less? Must he run more?
"Meanwhile, Elton's impressed me. He's kept up his best standards. His reading of the game has been as impressive as I've ever seen it."
Cilliers also praised Jantjies's "touches" that had been influential in several of the Lions' tries.
A deft dink with his wrong foot - the right one - teed up wing Tyrone Green for a try in the lone victory over the Reds at Ellis Park, while an exquisitely-timed chip-kick off his more comfortable left boot put Courtnall Skosan over for another against the Stormers; Jantjies got one himself in that derby with an infield break to dot at the posts.
Captaincy has not proved a special burden for Jantjies, Cilliers says.
"Sometimes you need to give guys like Elton, with his type of personality, greater responsibility. He's probably their most senior player nowadays, don't forget."
Curwin Bosch? "Yes, he's on the up, now he knows he's the No 1 flyhalf at Sharks; no more Robert du Preez standing in his way.
"He's not having to try to impress in, say, a 10-minute stint here and there in the flyhalf channel. That role is his.
"His confidence has risen, though his defence still needs more work. There are no other notably Super Rugby-experienced flyhalves in Durban to pressure him at the moment and that's helping."
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