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Rugby | Springboks

OPINION: Why Elton Jantjies needs to be backed

Elton Jantjies had a nightmare on Saturday.

You know it. I know it and he knows it.

And while it would be easy to jump on the bandwagon and write off his test career after his performance in the wet at Newlands, just what good would it do for South African rugby?

There is no doubt we write players off way too quickly at international level. A bad performance or two and that player is doomed to obscurity.

Rassie Erasmus did his best to defend the player – like any good coach would – after the game, and hinted that he wouldn’t be out of his long-term plans, but the rest of the country has written the Lions pivot off as quickly as they could.

But while this isn’t a defence of his performance, which even Elton would admit was below par, we should all pause for a moment, take a step back and look at the bigger picture.

On Saturday the Boks weren’t beaten because of Elton Jantjies.

They were beaten because their pack didn’t dominate, because England were better at the breakdown than they were and because they gave away almost three times the amount of penalties that their opponents did.

Blessed with a dominant pack, Danny Cipriani and Owen Farrell were deadly in keeping the Boks pinned in their own half. And when the penalties came, they racked the points up.

Take another step back and look at the selection for the game. Wet, slippery underfoot and playing behind a losing pack would be any flyhalf’s nightmare.

Neither Jantjies nor Faf de Klerk are known as wet weather specialists, nor was anyone in the back three seen as a massive punter of the ball. There was only one right-footed kicker in the backline and England, through superior tactical kicking, exploited it to the limit.

Add to this the fact that Newlands has never been a happy hunting ground for the Bok pivot.

And yes, Elton made a few horror mistakes.

He was rattled, he was under pressure and the harder he tried, the more it all went wrong.

But while everyone wants to write him off right now, spare a thought for Jantjies, who has fought hard to get where he is.

His Bok career is mostly under Allister Coetzee’s watch, where the game plan employed was hardly to his strengths. On Saturday and in Washington against Wales, slippery underfoot and tough handling conditions seemed to be a terrible fit as well, and were a far cry from the conditions Handre Pollard played in the other two tests.

But there should be a longer view. Robert du Preez had a nightmare first test and still needs to find his way from his Washington game, Handre Pollard is cruising as the No 1 in the 10 jersey and needs to be backed.

Damian Willemse, so often talked about and punted by those in the Cape, is currently injured and while he has the world of talent, may not take to test rugby with the ease that he has taken to Super Rugby.

Rassie Erasmus’s problem across the board is not in selecting a starting XV, but in selecting the extended members of a squad that will eventually go to the World Cup.

There are likely to be setbacks, and there may be more injuries than any of us would hope for in the lead-up to the World Cup.

And Jantjies may well find his way back to the sort of form that won him a Bok place in the first place.

There is no doubt that he is a confidence player and deserves backing. Danny Cipriani is the perfect example of a player written off so many times that people forget the moments he can create. Johnny May’s try was the perfect example of that on Saturday.

Somehow Elton needs to find his confidence again, and to play the sort of rugby at the Lions that we’ve known him to do in Super Rugby. He needs to find a way to transform that into the Springbok setup and to show that he can play test rugby at a level that is needed long term.

Stephen Donald showed the All Blacks in 2011 that a discard can mean the world of difference in a critical situation. To simply throw Jantjies away would do nobody any good.

The Springboks will need Elton Jantjies and he needs to up his game.

But to chase him away is short-sighted, emotional and simply ludicrous.


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