Springbok captain Eben Etzebeth reckons his players are better prepared for their Rugby Championship match against Argentina in Salta on Saturday than they were for the 2016 edition of the game. A year ago, the Boks were somewhat under siege. They had a nerve-jangling series win against Ireland at home, before surviving a scare against the Pumas in Nelspruit in the Rugby Championship, having to fight back from 13-23 with ten minutes to go. Late tries by Johan Goosen and Warren Whiteley and 7 points from Elton Jantjies gave them a victory which appears a lot more comfortable than it really was. Then they went to Salta and suffered only their second loss ever to the Pumas, 24-26. This year, the Springboks look a lot different. They’re playing with more cohesion, flair and vigour, and there’re many new faces. Only 8 players of the match 23 a year ago in Salta have retained their places in the Springbok team. The current run of four wins in a row has lifted the Springboks one place in the official World Rugby standings to fourth place behind New Zealand, England and Ireland. Etzebeth says the team needs to get it out of their minds that they struggle away against Argentina. If there’s one player who is able to bury a bad performance and raise his game, it’s flyhalf Elton Jantjies, who has bounced back from indifferent performances for the Lions and the Springboks and is proving his worth in the national side. – David O’Sullivan
No matter what Springbok flyhalf Elton Jantjies does, it is never quite enough to convince his critics that he is the real deal.
On Saturday against Argentina, he gave another polished display in the Springbok No 10 jersey – his fourth of the year.
Jantjies has been at the heart of every Springbok triumph in 2017, kicking 25 off his 28 attempts at goal for a success rate of 89.2%.
On Saturday, the 27-year-old showed that his game has come a long way since his struggles in the green and gold last year.
His inside pass to Courtnall Skosan for the first try was sublime and his distribution throughout the contest, particularly in the second half, put Springbok runners into space time and time again.
His kicking out of hand was accurate and intelligent, but perhaps the most pleasing statistic to come out of Jantjies’ performance was that he made 10 tackles and missed just one.
The talent has never been the issue for this player, but for so long now there have been those who have doubted his ability to perform on the biggest stage.
When Jantjies makes an error, there are people queuing up to make sure everyone knows it. It is a difficult thing to understand, but it is certainly true.
This year, however, it has become harder and harder to criticise him.
It was almost unbelievable when, after a poor game against the Sharks in the Super Rugby quarter-final this year, Jantjies was crucified.
This is a man who, for two years running, has been South Africa’s form flyhalf. Along the way, he has played in numerous big games in getting the Lions to back-to-back finals. To suggest that he can’t deliver under pressure borders on the absurd.
His form in 2017 has been unrivaled once again, but a single shaky display was all it took for Jantjies to be thrown to the wolves.
There are a staggering amount of South Africans who believe that the Boks win in spite of Jantjies, and not because of him.
Now, as the Boks head off to Salta for a clash against Argentina this weekend, Jantjies has a chance to put in one more big performance before Handre Pollard returns to fitness.
Listening to Allister Coetzee speaking about Pollard in the build-up to the Port Elizabeth Test suggested that, when fit, the Bulls pivot will be his first-choice.
The coach said that, at a push, Pollard could have been selected to play against Argentina but that he would instead be included for the Australasian tour.
There is no doubt that Pollard is class and an asset to Springbok rugby, but he has hardly played for two years.
Pollard’s last Test match came at the World Cup in 2015 and has played just six Super Rugby matches since then.
If there was a flyhalf crisis at the Boks, rushing Pollard back would make sense. But, as long as Jantjies is fit, there is no such crisis.
Instead, there is a player who has out-performed his rivals for two years yet, for some reason, still has question marks hovering over his head.
Jantjies is settling into his role as conductor, and while there are much bigger tests to come this year, he needs to be backed for the foreseeable future … even if he dishes up a bad game.
Sidelining him for a fit-again Pollard at the first available opportunity would send the wrong message.
Form and consistency need to be rewarded, and when talking Springbok No 10s, nobody has come close to matching Jantjies in those departments since 2015.
By Lloyd Burnard/Sport24