Pretoria - Many players may well feel they have reached the pinnacle of their career with a Rugby World Cup winners medal, but for Elton Jantjies, the opportunity to return to play for the Lions in this year’s Super Rugby tournament has given him a new lease on life.
Jantjies is the favourite to be named the new Lions captain in the next few weeks when the tournament starts and is likely to fill the Lions number 10 jersey for much of the season.
A keen student of the game, Jantjies knows all too well how much is needed to be successful in the game, and says his experience at the World Cup taught him much more than he expected. And now he wants to be a mentor and share it with the younger players coming through the ranks at the Lions.
“I’m very excited, obviously we had a great experience as a group at the World Cup but that is over now and I’m looking forward to Super Rugby in 2020. Especially having a few new faces, young boys that can’t wait to learn, some boys who are busy with their second and some with their third season.
“There is a little bit of continuity in our group although a lot of people say we are in a rebuilding phase. We have to look forward,” Jantjies said.
Jantjies believes that the Bok management team taught him a lot about his own game and the way they managed their resources was crucial in a Bok victory. But the challenge is to take those lessons and turn them into gold at franchise level, especially in a 19-week competition like Super Rugby.
“There is definitely technical stuff from a rugby point of view that I want to bring back to the guys. I believe in coach Rassie, coach Stix (Mzwandile Stick), coach Swys (de Bruin) and the personal trainer Alec (Walters) and the medical team. I’ve learnt a lot from them and I make sure I write every little thing down in meetings. Things I’ve learnt and things I can see and can implement and help us grow and move forward into 2020.
“I know everyone is going to point to the World Cup but at the union it is a different culture and different boardgame. It’s not just seven or eight weeks, its long.”
The World Cup was a great experience and he loved every minute of it, he adds, but now it is over, and the amount of hard work that is needed will remind any seriously-minded player of where his head needs to be at for Super Rugby.
“You can’t take it away. You work so hard, and as an individual it takes you four years to get into that squad and as a team it takes a lot of training. We were together for 22 weeks, it is probably the longest that a group of players have been together. We got together very close, off the field. On the field you could see we were aligned and it was the same off the field. We were in sync whenever we went onto the park. We had a brilliant leadership group and coaching staff and now for me it is to take what I have learnt there, and put it into pressure situations and sharing it with my group. There is a lot I can share with them.
“As an individual it is easy. I had a good celebration on the trophy tour sharing that with the country but then it’s back to training. I’ve been with my personal trainer and then with the guys in the camp. I don’t believe in taking time off, but what excites me is going back to the team and seeing the youth in the camp and being able to contribute. I’m very exciting.
“What keeps me driving is always my father, and it will never change as long as I have played the game.”
And while many South Africans are concerned about squad depth because of the loss of players, Jantjies believes that it is a challenge, but the franchises that handle the challenge well will be successful.
“It’s an exciting transition, a big learning transition, a growth transition. Other unions, teams, countries lost players. The All Blacks lost players and so did Australia. We are all in the same boat, and it will be about who will be prepared for 2020, who has the right mindset and who has the right work ethic for the year.
“It will be who is going to accept that you have lost players and move on. We had a great leadership group at the Lions and it is definitely part of our foundation, and it is definitely something we have to look forward to, in terms of growing players and cultures in teams.
“It will also be a new culture for me as well because I have been at the Lions a long time and will be able to share my experience and what I’ve learnt and getting what is going through their minds as young players in their first or second season, that is what is exciting to me.”
Jantjies is likely to get his chance next weekend at SuperHero Sunday when his Lions side will be in action for the first time.
Read this story on SuperSport.com.