Jan­tjies the only Bok 10 ... just let him be

The Star Early Edition - - SPORT - JAC­QUES VAN DER WESTHUYZEN

LET El­ton Jan­tjies play!

That is the cry of rugby fans across South Africa as the Spring­boks ready them­selves for the first Test of the new sea­son – against France at Lof­tus Vers­feld in Pre­to­ria on Satur­day.

There are many ques­tions about the new-look Bok out­fit and what im­pact the likes of Bren­dan Ven­ter and Franco Smith will have, and how War­ren White­ley’s lead­er­ship and cool head will im­pact the team, but how the Boks per­form as a unit will come down to the No 10 – Jan­tjies.

All rugby eyes will again be turned in the fly­half ’s di­rec­tion on Satur­day as the Boks be­gin their sec­ond year un­der the guid­ance of Al­lis­ter Coet­zee.

Last year Jan­tjies got his chance when Pat Lam­bie was ruled out in the first Test and for the rest of the year the Lions man was the first choice di­rec­tor of the Boks. He didn’t en­joy a good 2016. None of the Boks did … but Jan­tjies copped much of the blame.

Now the 26-year-old is back for more; the only stand­ing No 10 in the coun­try af­ter in­juries put paid to the chances of Lam­bie and Han­dre Pol­lard get­ting their hands on the No 10 shirt.

If truth be told though, Jan­tjies was al­ways the right man for the Bok job, the only man, even if Pol­lard and Lam­bie were fit.

In Su­per Rugby last year and so far this sea­son, the Lions fly­half has been in a class of his own. He has flour­ished un­der coach Jo­han Ack­er­mann and be­come a more ma­ture player, ca­pa­ble of do­ing any­thing and ev­ery­thing the best in the game are ca­pa­ble of as first re­ceiver. He is a leader of the backs at his fran­chise, he makes cru­cial calls and plays with con­fi­dence and be­lief. He makes men around him shine … he is playmaker and he is match-win­ner.

What makes Jan­tjies the right man for the job at the Lions and what makes him the best man for the Boks, is that he is the only No 10 who’ll take the Boks for­ward. The rea­sons are sim­ple: He at­tacks the gain­line, he puts those around him into space, he reads the game su­perbly, and he’s got his bag of tricks that ev­ery good fly­half should have. In it are his kick­passes to the wing, his dinks into space be­hind the op­po­si­tion line, his in­side off-loads.

Jan­tjies has shown over two years in Su­per Rugby he is as good as any other No 10 in the game, in­clud­ing Beau­den Bar­rett of New Zealand.

Ack­er­mann has made it clear Jan­tjies is a class act, but he’s also stated that the fly­half needs to be un­der­stood, backed and sup­ported. And that, above ev­ery­thing else, is what Coet­zee, Ven­ter and Smith in the Bok team must know.

There is no point in pick­ing Jan­tjies as your No 10 and then ask­ing him to play a cer­tain way. It’s not go­ing to work. It’s why he didn’t per­form for the Boks last year and it’s why he won’t do the busi­ness if he’s asked to play a cer­tain way this year. Put him in a box, and tell him what to do and how to play and you might as well not pick him.

It can only be hoped that with his Lions cap­tain White­ley lead­ing the way and with Coet­zee hav­ing learnt a lot from the dis­ap­point­ing 2016 sea­son, Jan­tjies will flour­ish in the Bok jersey this year, like he has done at Su­per Rugby level.

He may not have con­vinced at Test level – for what­ever rea­sons – but he has proven him­self time and again against the best in Su­per Rugby.

Jan­tjies is a No 10 with verve, vigour and fizz. He is in fine form and it’s time he is set free to play his game.

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