Former Lions coach Swys de Bruin has highlighted the attributes that make flyhalf Elton Jantjies such a special player and leader, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
Chatting to SA Rugby magazine, Jantjies recently opened up about the role of captaincy, and also explained his reasoning behind remaining committed to the Lions.
De Bruin, who has previously worked closely with Jantjies at Lions and Springbok levels, also provided insightful input when asked about the ‘evolution of Elton’ as a player and leader.
‘I remember when Elton came back to the Lions after a stint with the Stormers in 2013, he was down in confidence. But from the first moment I started working with him, I realised this guy has true potential. He is the first one out on the field to train, and is the last to leave. He has so much self-belief, it runs out of his ears.
‘Even when the team lost, and he often then seemed to be the scapegoat on social media, nothing rattled him. For me, the mark of a champion is not only being able to handle pressure on the field, but also all the pressures that come with it off the field.
‘Elton’s the kind of guy who will go out for a run on Christmas Eve at five o’clock. When I saw stuff like that I used to tell him “champions train when others rest”, and he’d laugh. But from a rugby-brain point of view, he is just something else, and when you look back at the tries we scored at the Lions, he was instrumental in so many of them.’
While Jantjies has occasionally been viewed by some as a bit of a maverick on and off the field, it’s evident that misconceptions have often clouded judgements.
Ultimately, the desire to become the best possible version of himself is what drives Jantjies on a carefully considered plan of action.
‘In the modern times, many players will wait to be told what to do, and it’s hard to find those sort of players who do things differently, but Elton is one of those,’ De Bruin reflects. ‘For example, Elton would come and sit with me before a game, and an hour and a half later we would still be discussing strategies. That’s how passionate he is about the game. I really loved coaching Elton.’
Speaking to this point, one of the lesser-known stories revolves around the vital supporting part Jantjies played at last year’s World Cup.
Even when he wasn’t included in the match-day squad as the playoffs rolled around, Jantjies spent time analysing opposing teams and players, while fulfilling a role at training as part of the ‘shadow team’ that would provide opposition for the selected 23 who would be playing that weekend.
For example, ahead of the final, word has it that Jantjies had looked closely at the performances and nuances of England playmakers George Ford and Owen Farrell and pinpointed aspects of play that could be expected.
Jantjies reflects fondly on the World Cup journey despite not featuring during the knockout stages. It’s the mark of the ultimate team man.
‘I learned a lot during that time at the World Cup; it gave me a lot of knowledge in terms of how other teams and players do things. If you weren’t playing, you would look to replicate the opposition. I spent a lot of time looking closely in detail at what players like George Ford, Richie Mo’unga, Beauden Barrett and Dan Biggar were doing.
‘It was more from a team point of view, trying to pick up what works for them, and what doesn’t work from them. I wrote a lot of stuff down, or tried to find ways to help from what I’d seen as a flyhalf sitting on the side of the field, and to identify things we could take forward as a team.
‘I really enjoyed that environment at the Springboks where we all communicated and shared ideas, which was all aimed at finding solutions.’
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