15 Sep 2020
The Springboks will require Elton Jantjies’ experience at flyhalf in the absence of Handré Pollard.
Pollard suffered a serious knee injury while playing for Montpellier last Friday and is expected to be out of action for six to nine months.
It is a huge blow for Bok coach Jacques Nienaber, who is reportedly set to take an inexperienced squad to Australia for the Rugby Championship and leave several World Cup stars behind.
However, it does give Elton Jantjies – the team’s second-choice flyhalf under Rassie Erasmus – a chance to step up and prove that he can produce consistently good performances at Test level.
The 30-year-old has not had a lengthy run in the Bok No 10 jersey since 2017, when he wore it 10 times.
He started four Tests last year – two in the Rugby Championship, against Australia and Argentina, and two at the World Cup, against Namibia and Canada. Erasmus’ decision to go with a six-two split between forwards and backs on the bench during the World Cup knockout stage saw Jantjies fall out of the match 23.
However, Jantjies (and Nienaber) will take heart from his performance against the Wallabies at Ellis Park last year. The Boks fielded a ‘B team’ for that game, but still beat a full-strength Australian side 35-17. Jantjies controlled the match well, particularly in the second half, was successful with five out of six kicks at goal, and kicked well out of hand.
Of course, Jantjies is not Pollard and shouldn’t be expected to play like him. At 98kg and 1.89m, Pollard relishes the physical aspect of the game, taking the ball flat on the advantage line and committing defenders. Jantjies (88kg, 1.76m) stands deeper, to give himself time and space in which to operate, and the Boks will have to adjust their game accordingly.
Damian Willemse is probably the best like-for-like replacement for Pollard, but the 22-year-old only has six Test caps (four off the bench) and was only recently told he will settle at flyhalf for the Stormers, having also played at fullback.
It would be better for Willemse and another young flyhalf contender, Curwin Bosch, to be used off the bench in the big Rugby Championship games against the All Blacks and Wallabies. If Nienaber does want to give Willemse or Bosch a start during the tournament, it would be safer to do so against Argentina.
Jantjies’ critics accuse him of disappearing in the big games. In the absence of Pollard, he deserves the chance to show he can win them.
– Borchardt is the editorial director of RugbyRocks.com. Follow him on Twitter.