Elton Jantjies, if not injured, will without a doubt be the Springbok flyhalf against Ireland, writes MARK KEOHANE in Business Day.
Allister Coetzee, as Bok coach, will pick a black player if he is good enough. His track record as Stormers coach, over a sustained period, is proof that Coetzee has always seen the qualities of a player more than his colour.
Jantjies is the best South African flyhalf in Super Rugby. He has been the most consistent and is now playing with the confidence of a young general who backs his ability and mentally knows he is good enough to be playing professional rugby.
Jantjies was again integral to a hard-fought Lions win against the Stormers at the weekend. He didn’t have the luxury of playing behind a pack so dominant that all he had to do was apply the front-foot accelerator.
Jantjies is more than a front-foot 'bully-type' flyhalf. He was forced to operate behind the gainline for most of the game because the Stormers forwards gave as good as they got from the Lions, and the Stormers rush defence did not allow for the Lions attack to play from a flatter start.
This was as close to a Test match environment as Jantjies will get in preparation for the Irish. And he passed the test comfortably.
There can’t be any more questions about his quality as a player and he needs to be given the three-Test series against the Lions to convert what we have seen in this year’s Super Rugby competition into greater reward at Test level.
Jantjies won’t be the only Lions player doing international duty this season. If he is, then there would be cause for concern and Coetzee’s selection abilities would be more the question than his capabilities as a coach.
Coetzee’s predecessor, Heyneke Meyer, didn’t select one Lions player in 2015, a season in which the Lions were among the better South African Super Rugby teams and comfortably the best in the Currie Cup.
Meyer, the Bulls coach for more than a decade, obviously had an inherent provincial block against the Bulls’ provincial neighbours – one he may not even have known existed.
But his continued refusal to acknowledge the good in the Lions squad, especially in 2015, means he is not Bok coach and many of those Lions players he ignored will be Boks.
The Lions, but for the stumble against the Crusaders when I thought they got suckered into playing an expansive game in which the New Zealanders are more versed, have been outstanding in the competition.
They scored a famous win against the Chiefs in Hamilton and have easily been the best of the South African teams in the derby match-ups. They were emphatic winners in Durban against the Sharks, toyed with the Cheetahs in a runaway win at Ellis Park and were deserved victors against a good Stormers outfit.
Jantjies aside, Coetzee would also have been impressed with Stormers and Bok flanker Siya Kolisi, whose international career stalled more than it soared in the Meyer tenure.
Kolisi is a gifted player, but he needs a coach who believes in his ability and also one who manages his workload. He has such an individual in Stormers coach Robbie Fleck, who has been astute in his loose-forward selections this season.
Fleck hasn’t got caught up in the traditional view that his best 6, 7 and 8 start every match, and that he picks loose-forward replacements for impact value.
Fleck has shown this season that he has six loose forwards all good enough to play an impact role and he has treated the players with equality in ensuring he gets maximum reward for every effort, whether for 20 minutes or 80.
Kolisi, celebrated for his physicality and strength in contact, also showed wonderful footwork and a rugby brain to match his brawn, when he scored the Stormers’ only try against the Lions.
Coetzee will look to the Lions and Stormers to beat Ireland because players from both teams currently have a winning habit and he won’t need hours spent with head doctors to convince the players of their rugby qualities.
The Sharks will also provide a few individuals to the Bok mix, but the more they lose, the smaller will be the number. Ditto the Bulls and Cheetahs, who both finally found attacking form against two of the competition’s worst teams.
Both will have more demanding training sessions than they did matches against the Sunwolves and Reds.
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