Smith: Elton Jantjies deserves respect

Springbok flyhalf Elton Jantjies is probably the most scrutinised player in South African rugby.

There also doesn’t seem to be a middle ground when it comes to opinions about the playmaker — South African rugby supporters either love him or loathe him in equal measure. His performances are often analysed with a lot more scrutiny in pubs across the country and on social media.

It could be because Jantjies is regarded as a maverick rugby player, whose arms are decorated in tattoos and who loves to pose with his sports cars on Instagram. He certainly doesn’t play like a traditional South African flyhalf, in the pocket and looking to find territory.

Jantjies plays on the advantage line, tries little passes and dinks over the top. He is not scared to attack the line himself and take contact. But he is also an enigma of sorts — because when he is good, he can be majestic. But when he has an off day, he can be pretty average.

Over the last year, though, he has had a lot more good games than bad ones.

Jantjies played a vital role in the Boks’ 3-0 series win over France after a tough 2016 for the South African team and their flyhalf.

Jantjies sparked the South African team’s attack and seemed to enjoy the new endeavour and pace the Boks are trying to play with. His much-talked about goalkicking was also very good, as he only missed two attempts at posts across the three-Test series.

Jantjies also led the Lions to their second consecutive Super Rugby final from the No 10 position, but yet most of South African media contingent at Tuesday’s press conference with Jantjies and Bok backline coach Franco Smith wanted to know when the two other flyhalves in the squad — young talent Curwin Bosch and Handré Pollard — will be available for selection.

It’s something that baffled Smith.

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“It’s weird that Elton is always under the microscope,” Smith told KweséESPN after the media briefing.

“Elton is the Test flyhalf for South Africa and he has proved himself in the first three Tests against France. I don’t understand the scrutiny, because he is consistent. He has played a lot of rugby this season, playing in the majority of the Lions’ games and for 80 minutes.

“Today he was sitting at the press conference, and all the flyhalf questions that were asked were about everyone except him. I think he deserves a lot more respect and support.”

Smith says the Boks’ move to a more fluid game plan, instead of the rigid one that seemed to limit Jantjies in 2016, will bring out the best in the flyhalf.

Elton Jantjies kicks for goal during the second Test between South Africa and France on June 17, 2017 Steve Haag/Gallo Images/Getty Images

“We are giving him the opportunity to build up his confidence and to develop into the player we know can be, because he has all the tools to become one of the best,” Smith added.

“Deep inside every player is that feeling they had when they first picked up a rugby ball, and you want to give the players that same feeling and excitement. We are just trying to nurture that.”

There is no doubt that Jantjies will start against Argentina in the Boks’ Rugby Championship opener at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium on Saturday. But Smith was coy about whether one of Bosch and Pollard will be the backup flyhalf.

Pollard hasn’t played any rugby since the early rounds of Super Rugby, as he has been struggling to get over an ankle injury. He has run freely this week, but may be short of a gallop as far as match fitness is concerned.

Bosch is a great talent, having made a smooth transition from junior rugby to Super Rugby.

“Both Handré and Curwin have really stepped up this week, and I’m really impressed how they have adapted to the detail and the work. A Test match is different, because the margin of error is much less,” Smith said.

“Both of them are quite new in the system and we are giving them freedom to develop among these guys.”

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