Elton Jantjies needs to perform for the Lions after an unsuccessful stint with the Stormers, writes SIMON BORCHARDT.
In January last year, Elton Jantjies told SA Rugby magazine that his father Thomas was his kicking coach and ‘the closest thing to me in terms of a mentor, hero and inspiration.’ A week later, Thomas died from complications after a bee sting.
A year has passed and Elton is still not comfortable talking about his father’s death. Yet less than a month after he lost the most important person in his life, Jantjies started at flyhalf for the Stormers in the first match of their Super Rugby campaign, against the Bulls at Loftus, despite not having played in any warm-up fixtures.
You did not need the benefit of hindsight to know that he should not have played in that game and it was no surprise when he missed his first four penalty goal attempts. That saw Joe Pietersen brought off the bench and given the goal-kicking responsibilities, which the fullback kept for the rest of the tournament. It was a big blow to the confidence of Jantjies, who had an 86% goal-kicking success rate in the 2012 Super Rugby tournament (49 out of 57).
Carlos Spencer, the former All Blacks flyhalf who had coached Jantjies at the Lions, told Die Burger the Stormers should have backed Jantjies.
‘He’s a good place-kicker and likes to kick,’ said Spencer. ‘What message does it send to a young player if you don’t trust him or think he is good enough? Elton thrives on confidence.’
Jantjies, who was on loan from the relegated Lions, went on to start 11 of the Stormers’ 16 matches, missing two because of a knee injury, coming off the bench twice, and being an unused replacement on another occasion.
His best performance came in the 35-22 win against the Brumbies at Newlands in March, which resulted in the Stormers’ only four-try bonus point of the tournament. He struggled over the next few weeks, along with the team’s forwards, and then got injured.
Jantjies regained the No 10 jersey midway through the Australasian tour but lost it after a poor performance against the Kings in PE, with Gary van Aswegen starting in the Stormers’ last match of the season, against the Bulls at Newlands.
There had been talk earlier in the year that Jantjies could make his move to Cape Town a permanent one, but he unsurprisingly extended his contract with the Lions by another two years after returning to Joburg.
‘What message does it send to a young player if you don’t trust him or think he is good enough? Elton thrives on confidence’ – Carlos Spencer
Why were Jantjies and the Stormers not a good fit?
Jantjies came from a team that had no structure (rules about what to do on the field and when) and joined one that was very structured.
At the Lions, he was praised for his attacking ability, with his defensive lapses being overlooked. But defence is a big aspect of the Stormers’ game and their biggest strength, which meant Jantjies was judged on this part of his game too.
Jantjies was also put under pressure during the initial stage of his Stormers’ career by the coaches’ foolish decision to play a more expansive game in Super Rugby after Western Province’s Currie Cup win the year before. In order to do this, they selected the more attacking Nic Groom at scrumhalf ahead of Louis Schreuder, a very good kicker, which forced Jantjies to bear the tactical kicking burden. The Stormers later reverted to a more pragmatic approach and won their last five matches.
‘The Stormers focus on defence and not attack,’ said Spencer when Jantjies was struggling. ‘Elton wants to express himself and you have to give someone like that freedom to take charge. I would definitely say the Stormers aren’t the right team for him.
‘Elton likes to attack the gainline and if he’s not allowed to do that, and doesn’t get players who run into space next to him, he’ll struggle. The Stormers do have quality outside backs, but they don’t know how to use them.’
Jantjies must have been relieved to return to the Lions for their two Super Rugby promotion-relegation matches against the Kings. In the first one, the flyhalf looked like his old self again, kicking six out of seven to score 16 of his team’s 26 points.
He went on to start six of the Golden Lions’ 10 Currie Cup league matches, with Marnitz Boshoff being preferred on two occasions and an ankle injury ruling Jantjies out of the other two games.
He returned for the semi-final against Western Province at Newlands, kicking three penalties in three attempts, and finished the tournament with a goal-kicking success rate of 79% (22 out of 28).
The 2014 Super Rugby season gives Jantjies the chance to further regain the confidence and form that saw him win his only two Bok caps in 2012. And the Lions desperately need him to do that if they are to exceed expectations and finish outside the bottom three for the first time since 2001.
JANTJIES ON …
WHETHER HE WAS THE WRONG FIT FOR THE STORMERS
‘It was quite a different experience but with every new situation, a person is able to grow and develop. I don’t think I was a wrong or right fit as such – every team has its own style and tactics and I guess there are just some areas of my game that were different to the style of the coaches. The coaches always supported me.’
WHETHER NOT BEING THE STORMERS’ FIRST-CHOICE GOAL-KICKER AFFECTED HIS CONFIDENCE
‘I won’t say it affected my confidence. I am always confident in my abilities but I would say one of my main strengths is my goal-kicking and I feel that, because I could not kick a lot in 2013, my chances of being selected for the Boks were cut drastically.’
RETURNING TO THE LIONS
‘It was easy because they play with an instinctive type of mindset and I slot in with the expansive game plan they have here. The management also really helped me when I arrived back – I spent extra hours with our technical analyst, JP Ferreira, who assisted me a great deal. When it comes to the environment at the Lions, I feel like this is home.’
WHETHER HE HAD OTHER OFFERS
‘Yes, I think every player in the country gets an offer to move somewhere at some stage. For me, though, I know myself and I know where I am happiest. My dad always wanted me to spend the majority of my career at the Lions and for me, it is important to stay loyal and see this union grow. I am so excited that Super Rugby is back in Johannesburg and I’m looking forward to my future here.’
WHAT HE MUST DO TO FORCE HIS WAY BACK INTO THE BOK SQUAD
‘I just want to be myself on the field and enjoy my rugby. I will work hard to ensure that all aspects of my game are up to scratch and I aim to play with confidence. I will always respect the coach’s decisions but I will do my best to get to a point where I am good enough to represent my country again.’
– This article first appeared in the March 2014 issue of SA Rugby magazine