Gavin Rich - SuperSport.com
Cape Town - His first appearance at one of Rassie Erasmus’ Springbok alignment camps provided proof that he has entered the national coach’s thinking, but the Stormers scrumhalf Herschel Jantjies is way too level-headed to let his mind drift to Japan.
There was no one-on-one and there were no technical drills, but the 23-year-old was part of a group that was addressed by Erasmus and his assistant coaches during the Stormers’ most recent bye week.
"There was nothing specific, not much technical stuff discussed and no one-on-one, we just dealt with planning stuff relating to the Rugby Championship and then the World Cup," said the 23-year-old.
"I was at the camp but my mind is not on that. I can’t be playing for Stormers and mind is in Japan. If I don’t play well for the Stormers then I won’t make it. So my focus is on the next four games for Stormers and hopefully with God on my side I can go on from there."
Of course being invited to an alignment camp is far from a guarantee you will be part of the Springbok plans when the season arrives.
Many players get invited who won’t be there, Erasmus just has to cover his bases in case of injury. However the fact he was there and wasn’t previously is a positive sign and a big step forward. It is also nothing less than deserved after the good form and promise he has shown in his first full season of Super Rugby.
He says he thought it might be a nightmare season when his team was thumped by the Bulls in the first match of the competition at Loftus Versfeld, but he was pivotal in the recovery of pride that stabilised things the following week. For it was he who produced the little bit of individual brilliance that enabled the Stormers to score a last gasp win over the Lions at Newlands in round two.
"I do like making breaks and I do like trying things on attack and giving the opposition defence something to think about, that is just the way I have always played," said Jantjies.
"I guess you can say I am an instinctive player. I play what I see. And that is especially so when things don’t go our way in a match. I suppose it is in my DNA, if you want to put it like that."
Jantjies, born in Stellenbosch and a product of Pual Roos, will take another interesting and challenging step in his promising career when he comes head to head with All Black scrumhalf Aaron Smith when the Stormers host the Highlanders at Newlands.
The nippy halfback, who has provided much-needed X-factor to a Stormers team that is still struggling to get across the whitewash, obviously has a high regard for Smith.
"He does sum up the situation really quickly and in that regard is one to follow and I definitely want to do that but there is a long way to go before I can compare myself to Aaron Smith," said Jantjies.
"But if I am willing to learn and focus on what I can achieve then there is no reason why I can’t achieve it."
Level-headed but ambitious then, and the country needs that in a position where good players aren’t exactly proliferating like West Coast flowers in spring time. Not that Jantjies is going out on Saturday to put one over Smith.
"It is not a personal battle so much as I like to work on my own processes to follow and to focus on myself. I do my stuff and worry about myself and don’t worry too much about the opposition."
Still, a good performance in a match featuring Smith as his opposite number won’t do his Bok chances any harm. Neither will more of the big tackles he has started to make a habit of and which are starting to now appear as if they also might be part of his DNA.
Defence was something he was asked to improve after his maiden Currie Cup season with Western Province, and he has done that. So much so that it has become a strength.
"I would say on a mental scale it has definitely improved as I needed to do that. I don’t want to be seen as the small guy," said the diminutive but strong and abrasive Stormers scrumhalf. "I don’t want to be targeted because then it will be a long 80 minutes on the field. I like to make myself known in the beginning of a match with my first tackle. If I can stop a big guy he is not going to come at me the whole day."
Jantjies’ improved defence is something that Stormers coach Robbie Fleck has been particularly happy about. According to Fleck, Jantjies has been nothing short of outstanding in his first big season.
"He is playing outstanding rugby and has just grown from strength to strength as the competition has gone on. His service is quick and effective, he is dangerous around the fringes and the biggest jump in his game has been his defence," said Fleck a few weeks ago.
"I'm very happy for him and we've invested a lot of time in him. He's coming through nicely and I'm very excited of where he can go this year."
Confident without being cocky or arrogant seems to be the Jantjies approach, and he appears to know where he wants to go and how to get there. He has a wise head on his shoulders though and knows there is still a lot of work to do. It’s been a good start, but he hasn’t arrived yet.
"There is always room for improvement. I can improve my passes and definitely my kicking. But with time and a lot of training that will come," he said.
And there you have it in a nutshell - he doesn’t doubt his ability and what he will achieve if he works hard, but he knows that nothing will come easily if he doesn’t retain the impressive focus he has shown up to now.
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