Elton Jantjies’ Man of the Match performance in Saturday’s quarter-final added another chapter to the curious chronicles of the Lions flyhalf, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
Just through that opening sentence alone, I’m quite sure there will be some readers already going off on a tangent either in favour of or against the enigmatic 27-year-old.
There are few players in South African rugby who seem to polarise opinion as much as Jantjies, and the fact that he continues to present an air of such enduring self-belief is a testimony to the character of the young man.
This was no more evident than on Saturday as Jantjies guided the Lions through a crucial knockout clash against the dangerous Jaguares.
As if personifying the role of a world-class conductor, Jantjies ensured the Lions orchestra played to his tune. From a pinpoint try-creating crosskick to a classy drop goal, the Lions star unpacked his full bag of tricks.
It was a joy to behold, but also in another context, it was a performance that was immensely vexing simply because it’s very rarely been replicated when Jantjies has been performing on the Test stage.
Since 2016, Jantjies has featured in 24 Tests, and yet there are still pertinent question marks over his ability to translate his mercurial talents from domestic level to the international arena on a consistent basis.
There’s little point in harping on about Jantjies’ struggles in the Boks’ wet-weather match against England in the third Test this past June, or the fact that many of his most memorable performances have come when wearing the Lions’ No 10 jersey at Ellis Park.
Instead, isn’t it time we started looking at more proactive solutions when it comes to finding the key to solving the curious case of Elton Jantjies?
In the new issue of SA Rugby magazine, columnist Simnikiwe Xabanisa raised a very interesting point in retelling how All Blacks star Damian McKenzie previously visited a sports psychologist to overcome a mental block when it came to his kicking game.
Instead of doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result, McKenzie opted to look for an unconventional solution, and the end result has come in the form of the quirky smile that aims to relax him during his goal-kicking routine.
Unfortunately, in South African rugby, the value of a sports psychologist is often overlooked.
On a similar subject, ask any member of the Boks’ 2007 World Cup-winning team to pinpoint the key role players in that campaign, and the name of Dr Sherylle Calder will inevitably come up, with the renowned ‘eye doctor’ having expertly honed their hand-eye coordination skills.
Jake White is a massive advocate of Calder’s work, while the former World Cup-winning coach also had the rather unique ability to bring out the best in another infamously enigmatic player, Frans Steyn.
During one conversation I had with White, he explained how important it was to appreciate how best to manage and bring out the best in different players.
Steyn, when he was still making his way through the senior ranks, was not the sort of player who took kindly to fierce criticism or micro-management. According to White, the talented utility back performed best when he felt he had the full backing of his teammates and coach, and was allowed the freedom to play his natural game.
It’s no surprise that many of Steyn’s most memorable performances in a Springbok or Sharks jersey came when coached by White.
Perhaps Jantjies is not all that dissimilar. Under the guidance of Lions coaches Johan Ackermann and Swys de Bruin, he has delivered an array of glittering performances when afforded the freedom to express himself. Unfortunately, it never seemed quite the same during his stints with the Stormers and Boks when Allister Coetzee was coach.
Ultimately, the point is that not every player is the same. Some react differently to constructive criticism, some need to put quality before quantity when it comes to training, or vice versa. Some might also benefit from spending time chatting to a ‘kop’ doctor.
What Jantjies proved beyond any doubt once again on Saturday is that he has all the skills to dictate proceedings in a high-pressure match. The necessary steps are surely worth taking to work out just how to translate this to the Test arena.
Maybe, just maybe, all that’s needed is a little thinking outside of the box.
Photo: Wessel Oosthuizen/Gallo Images