Jantjies is back, but is he tilting at windmills?
Johannesburg - All Liverpool fans remember exactly where they were when they shed what the kids call a thug tear after Steven Gerrard gave his rousing “We go again!” speech in the immediate aftermath of a late victory against Manchester City in the 2013/14 English Premiership season.
But what was supposed to be an iconic call to arms was rendered no more than a colourful T-shirt slogan after a daft three-all draw against Crystal Palace, which handed the “noisy neighbours” the title and left Liverpool without a title for the first time in over two decades.
Watching Elton Jantjies rage against the machine once more in Super Rugby, one can’t help but wonder if the Lions flyhalf is headed for the same disappointment as Stevie G was in that heartbreaking campaign.
Jantjies had one of the more baffling seasons in memory last year, where he dominated Super Rugby en route to guiding the Lions to the final, but finished the international season as addled as that tortured pre-kick routine of his.
The contrasts in Jantjies’ seasons with the Lions and the Springboks last year are perhaps best illustrated by his giving the best performance by a South African flyhalf in recent memory against the Highlanders, compared with an inexplicable dropped restart against the All Blacks, which led to a try against the Boks.
But what remains is that he’s back again this year, leading with his chin to go one better with the Lions and hopefully repair what looked like irreparable damage in his time with the Boks. Clearly, he won’t go away quietly.
In a season where the return of Handre Pollard and Pat Lambie, the emergence of teen prodigy Curwin Bosch and Lionel Cronje’s belated fulfilment of his talent was expected to consign him to history, Jantjies has still emerged as the best in his position.
Pollard and Lambie – both unimpressive early in the season – have been cut down by injury; Bosch will be away in Georgia with the South African Under-20s when the French series takes place in June; and folks simply don’t trust Cronje, probably because of that around-the-waist dummy.
To be sure, Jantjies has lost some of the mercury that made him positively mesmerising last year in favour of a steadier hand, but he’s still the best local standoff when it comes to making decisions on the fly while playing flat. He still falls off tackles, but it’s not for lack of trying, and his kicking out of hand – the length of which put the Boks under pressure last year – has improved. Maybe it’s prudent at this juncture to talk about how dedicated Jantjies is.
Many of us get fooled by the greasy hair, the puffed-out chest and the puke-green sports car he drives, but just about everything Jantjies does is aimed at making him a better rugby player. He still does extra work in training and buys his own hi-tech recovery gadgets.
This is probably why he is the last man standing when it comes to Bok flyhalf contenders, eager to add to a paltry 11 Test matches since making his debut in 2012. The catch is that he will still play for Allister Coetzee, a man he has never been confident under or played well for.
There seems to be so much riding on the series against the French that one has to consider whether Coetzee will pick a flyhalf he doesn’t seem to trust.
A question asked often – and somewhat unfairly, given that Jantjies has only played 11 Tests – is whether he belongs at Test level.
It’s a tough question to answer, especially when the rest of the Boks have been below average, but one has to admire Jantjies’ willingness to ignore the critics and “go again”.
But is he tilting at windmills?
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