Don’t make Jantjies the scapegoat

Date published: September 1 2016

The criticism on Springbok fly-half Elton Jantjies is unfair if he's being asked to fit into a game plan that doesn't suit him.

The Springboks look lost at the moment. It's like the players themselves are trying to figure out what type of rugby coach Allister Coetzee wants them to play. 

The first-half in Salta was a nightmare and it has been quite a while since the Boks have looked so lost and flat, like they didn't exactly know what they had to do or how to do it. 

Jantjies has been made a scapegoat by fans who believe he shouldn't be playing, probably the same fans who sung his praises during the Super Rugby season when the Lions reached the final. Based on Super Rugby form, Jantjies was a merit selection for South Africa at fly-half and deserved his chance.

So far things haven't worked out for him, and suddenly he is the symptom of everything that is wrong with team selections and politics in our beloved game.

The reality is the majority of the team that Coetzee has picked has under-performed. But the fly-half always catches the limelight probably because it is one of the easiest positions to track when watching a game.

The question then becomes – is Coetzee picking the right players to fit into the style of rugby he wants to play? Jantjies is the perfect example to use here.

The reason Jantjies was the best fly-half in South Africa during and after Super Rugby is because of his consistent performances for the Lions, a team who were praised for their brand of attacking rugby. Jantjies had license to play the game the way he saw fit. He had freedom in his decision-making and the whole game plan was built around his ability with ball in hand and his decision-making in certain situations.

At the Springboks, that world doesn't exist. Coetzee is known as a conservative, defensive minded coach who prefers his players make as few mistakes as possible while pouncing on the opposition mistakes.

Jantjies wasn't a success when he moved to the Stormers for a year while the Lions were out of Super Rugby and he was coached by Coetzee. Now they have been reunited at the Springboks, a level where failure isn't tolerated and the pressure is unbearable.

For most teams it is a low risk environment. Is the fact that Jantjies is again struggling under the coaching of Coetzee a coincidence? The point is while Jantjies might be the best fly-half available at the moment, is he really the best option at number 10 for a coach like Coetzee? 

Is Jantjies the best fly-half to execute the game plan Coetzee wants to play, because putting restrictions on a player with his attacking ability doesn't make sense, does it?

That is why a player like Morne Steyn has had such a successful career both at Super Rugby and international level. He is low risk, makes few mistakes and is solid in most departments. He knows how to play under instruction from the coach and his execution, especially when he has a proper scrum-half on his inside, is more consistent than most.

Coetzee, like his predecessor Heyneke Meyer, is running the risk of picking too many players who are either not in form or not the best in their positions anymore. 

Like many fans Coetzee will bank on South Africa's ability to lift their game when they play the likes of Australia and especially New Zealand, but things feel different this time. 

In the meantime Coetzee must decide on the type of rugby he wants to play and stick to it, but he must make sure he picks the players who are capable of executing that game plan.

By Kobus Pretorius