Steyn, Jantjies will allow backs to ’empty the tank’

Faf de Klerk says experienced duo Elton Jantjies and Frans Steyn offer more value than just what meets the eye, writes CRAIG LEWIS.

To the untrained eye, Jantjies and Steyn may be perceived to have only played a bit-part role for the Springboks this season.

Jantjies featured as a substitute in the one-off Test against Georgia and in the opening Test defeat by the British & Irish Lions, while his only start this year came in a clinical performance against Argentina in mid-August.

Steyn has featured in only two Tests this year, starting against Georgia and alongside Jantjies in the Rugby Championship opener, with Damian Willemse predominantly deployed as the Boks’ utility back on the bench.

Yet, while the on-field contributions of Jantjies and Steyn have been relatively limited, the duo have served as integral members of the wider Springbok squad.

Jantjies is a student of the game, who has embraced a mentorship role at this stage of his Bok career, and has been widely credited for the manner in which he has trained against the Springbok starting team, often mimicking the traits of the opposing flyhalf that will be faced.

During the Lions series, Jantjies would ‘shadow’ the role of Dan Biggar, Owen Farrell or Finn Russell, presenting a picture that the Boks could expect to face.

Similarly, Steyn has somewhat stepped away from the crucial Bomb Squad role he performed at the 2019 World Cup, but has sought to share his experience and knowledge with the younger members of the squad.

Willemse recently spoke about working closely with Steyn, who was offering guidance on game management and also sharing a few other tricks of the trade.

Ahead of this Saturday’s all-important clash with the All Blacks, Bok coach Jacques Nienaber has now turned to both Jantjies and Steyn to add their experience and calming presence to the bench.

It’s a rare return to a traditional five-three forwards-to-backs split on the bench, with Steyn covering centre and fullback, while Jantjies is sure to come on as a carefully timed replacement for Handre Pollard during the final quarter of the clash.

Steyn’s value as a long-range goal-kicking option, and a perfect candidate to exploit the new 50-22 law, can’t be underestimated, while Jantjies’ presence does bring back memories of his sensational cameo off the bench when the Boks claimed a historic win over the All Blacks in Wellington in 2018.

On Tuesday, De Klerk was asked about the roles of the experienced backline stalwarts, and highlighted how it would allow for a change of mindset.

“The main thing they’ve brought, especially in training, is that they run the show on attack and defence, giving us pictures similar to what we’ll face and what we should expect on the weekend. They’ve done that brilliantly.

“The experience that they bring is going to be immense for us this Saturday. A couple more calm heads is never a bad thing. It will give the backs a few more opportunities to really go out there and give it their all. If the tank’s empty, we have a few more changes we can make, and Frans can fit in almost anywhere. Elton can cover flyhalf and even centre if really needed, so we’re well covered.

“It’s an opportunity for the backs to go out there and really just empty the tank.”

Meanwhile, De Klerk also echoed the sentiment of Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber, reiterating that the team were aware of the need to play to their strengths this weekend.

“We perhaps strayed a bit away from our DNA and how we usually play [against Australia], and that maybe put guys under pressure in terms of forcing errors when we were overplaying a bit.

“So, that’s up to us now as game drivers to ensure we play in the right areas of the field and don’t put that unnecessary pressure on ourselves. We know as a group that we need to be better and step up our game a lot going into this Test, and make it a performance that everyone can be proud of.”

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Craig Lewis