A TALE OF TWO FLYHALVES
We can’t get away from it and we can’t ignore it ... Saturday’s Super Rugby semi-final between the Lions and Hurricanes at Ellis Park pits arguably the competition’s best No 10s against each other for the first time this year. So, how do Elton Jantjies and Beauden Barrett match-up ahead of the big game? Rugby writer JACQUES VAN DER WESTHUYZEN gives his view on the two flyhalves
THE LIONS man has been outstanding in 2017, plain and simple! Forget the fact he had a bad day at the office last Saturday – those one-off aberrations happen to everyone every now and again and those suggesting he is in a “slump” have obviously not watched him week-in and week-out produce the goods for his team.
Jantjies has shone at home and away and has played with a maturity he seemed to be lacking last season. And it’s not only for the Lions that he has stood tall and directed those around him; he has done it at Test level as well – something he didn’t do a year ago. This weekend’s match though is without question Jantjies’ biggest test of the year – as he comes up against a New Zealand team for the first time and goes head to head with arguably the slickest No 10 in the game in Beauden Barrett.
Jantjies’ challenge is to show he can deliver the big pressure performance, with the opposition in his face and cutting off his options at the back, but there’s no reason why he won’t prosper. After all, he was one of the chief destroyers of the Crusaders and Highlanders in the playoffs last year, so why not now in 2017, too?
He has got every trick in the book and he’ll need to use all of them if his team are to triumph, and that includes his goal-kicking which let him down last weekend. Jantjies is a class act and what an opportunity awaits for him to silence every critic out there.
THE WORLD’S leading flyhalf? Quite possibly. Barrett has been on top of his game for some time now and it’s no surprise some have ranked him ahead of the great Dan Carter as the best New Zealand have produced at No 10 in the last number of years.
The Canes flyhalf produced a masterful performance in the wet and cold of Wellington in the final last year (against the Lions), but he’ll be even more dangerous in the dry and warm highveld sun. There’s just no truth in the notion the Kiwis don’t like the thin air up north ... they’ve always prospered on the highveld and love good conditions to play in as much as the South Africans do. Barrett is his team’s key man. Everything goes through him and it’s his distribution skills, his short passes, kick-passes to the wings and sniping breaks that make him so dangerous. Trying to neutralise him isn’t easy because he brings so much. So if the Lions are to have a chance of getting past the only Kiwi side they failed to beat last season (on two occasions) they’re going to have to get under Barrett’s skin and put pressure on him; he’s shown he is prone to mistakes when things don’t go his way.
An added advantage for Barrett is that he doesn’t kick at goal anymore (his brother Jordie does that now) which means he can focus solely on directing his team at 10. Like the challenge facing Jantjies, this will be just as big a test for Barrett.