SIMNIKIWE XABANISA says Elton Jantjies should be allowed to have a poor performance without being told there's something wrong with his game.
You can almost set your clock by it, that moment during the rugby season when the public decides Jantjies is having the kind of crisis of faith which demands that he stop calling himself a rugby player altogether.
It happened last year after his underwhelming return to the Springboks, and it’s happening again after the Lions flyhalf’s nightmare in the Super Rugby quarter-final against the Sharks last Saturday. By the looks of it, there’s nothing like a bad Jantjies performance to get rational rugby people reaching for illogical conclusions as to what it means.
I can’t put a finger on it – it could be the perennially unfinished hairstyle, it could be his penchant for flashy cars – but the incumbent Bok flyhalf seems to come under a lot more scrutiny, followed by knee-jerk conclusions, than other players.
Just as the talk after last year was that he shouldn’t go anywhere near a Bok jersey again, now there is this weird panic after the Sharks game that the wheels will come off despite the fact that Jantjies is in the midst of the most mature season of his career.
To be sure, there were shades of a player unravelling in Jantjies’ last game. He missed four kicks at goal for a total of 10 much-needed points; made six handling errors; had one of his restarts go out on the full; and gifted the Sharks their first try by forcing an intercepted pass.
Looking at last weekend’s quarter-final against the Sharks, it looked as though Jantjies had realised that bad dream we all have from time to time, when we wake up in a cold sweat because we dreamed we’d forgotten how to do our jobs.
But what rankles, is the reaction to Jantjies’ first bad game since he played for the Boks last year. In projecting fears that he will repeat it in the semi-finals against the Hurricanes on Saturday, there was little effort made to contextualise that one thing we’re all guaranteed in life – a bad day.
People were quick to jump on the bandwagon that there most definitely was something wrong with Jantjies, with poor Braam van Straaten – now making his living as a kicking coach – roped in to explain just what his kicking issues were.
Forget that Van Straaten’s probably got a point, or the fact that Jantjies’s kicking accuracy is north of the 80%, what caught my eye was the desperation to prove that his quarter-final performance wasn’t an aberration, but a sign that some kind of rot has set in.
The panic on his behalf also seeks to raise another issue, that of supposed mental fragility. It’s an accusation that has dogged Jantjies since we got to know that his first professional mentor was Carlos Spencer, another extravagantly talented player accused of bottling it in must-win games.
To pick out last year’s final against the Hurricanes, conveniently overlooks his knockout games against the Crusaders and the Highlanders in the two weeks prior to that. Surely if you play those three teams in succession, you’re bound to win some and lose some?
Also am I alone in thinking Johan Ackermann’s instruction for the Lions to play their natural game, and not finals rugby, might have contributed to the looseness of Jantjies and his teammates’ play last weekend?
If so, surely the person in charge of pushing that agenda was Jantjies, which meant by taking his cue from that instruction the team ended up taking its cue from him.
I’m part of a WhatsApp group of rugby nutters who also discussed at length the fact that Jantjies supposedly turned up in a new car for the game. Again, am I alone in thinking whether he uses Uber X to the stadium or a private jet should have nothing to do with how he plays?
It’s time to judge Jantjies by the same standards everybody else is.
Photo: Julian Smith/BackpagePix