Johannesburg - Springbok pivot Elton Jantjies may be one of the big factors the Golden Lions are looking to fire in Saturday’s Currie Cup semi-final against the Sharks in Durban, but if there was any thought the flyhalf may be less than excited at the prospect of playing in the domestic competition, Jantjies quickly buried those thoughts.
The trademark Jantjies smile was apparent on Tuesday when he chatted to SuperSport.com about the excitement of playing in the playoff rounds of the domestic competition, and there is little doubt that he wants a chance to make only his second appearance in a final - his last coming way back in 2011.
In fact, Jantjies last played in the Currie Cup in 2013, having spent much of his time in Japan in a move that revitalised his career and now that he’s here, he is hungry for more success.
“Definitely I’m not going to shy away from it. 2011 was special,” Jantjies explained.
“Now we are back in that same type of vibe, coming back from the Springboks and making sure I slot in and get to know my boys quicker and faster and knowing what happens around me.
“With the younger players, knowing what they like and don’t like and getting to know who I am playing with - that is key for me and gives me confidence as well, not to just focus on myself. I must put the team first and know the players around me.”
Jantjies believes the decision to give him game time in the Currie Cup can only be beneficial and is something he is enjoying at this stage of his career.
“It was something exciting for me, especially after Super Rugby and being with the Boks. You normally take it as a formality but you shouldn’t,” he added.
“Then you get the break where you hear you can play Currie Cup and it puts some extra energy into my life and my rugby career as well because it is something that I’ve always treasured in SA Rugby. I’ve always believed we should give more attention to because it is our main campaign, our main season in SA Rugby. I see Super Rugby as international rugby and then Currie Cup is good for us as locals.”
And while the debate continues about the standard of the competition, Jantjies believes that the age in the competition has changed, but not the quality.
“The only difference that I’ve felt was playing Currie Cup after a few years, but definitely the quality of Currie Cup - I don’t think it went down, but the only thing that has changed is that in the past we’ve had older guys playing. Now you have younger players who are willing to go and make their mark in senior rugby building towards Super Rugby next year.”
The Lions won’t change their game style for the Sharks, even though they lost the league game rather badly earlier this season and haven’t enjoyed the success they did in Super Rugby. But he believes the team is starting to click and the introduction of some of the Springboks - other than Jantjies the likes of Franco Mostert, Warren Whiteley and try-scoring sensation Aphiwe Dyantyi are all expected to play - will play a massive role in the team’s chances this weekend.
“For me the value system stays the same. The same one that has stood for the last five years – to score tries, to play a brand of rugby that we love and to play for each other. We are not going to phase away from that and that is something we will always go to during tough times and during good times as well. We had a few losses and I watched the guys a lot.
“The effort was always there but technically they weren’t that good. It is something that the guys were working hard on every week and learning from the coaches as well, especially as they have a lot of under-21 players. At least we have a few senior players back that know the system and they can feed off us and we can feed off their energy as well.
“That is good and last week being back against the Pumas, I can feel the in-synced-ness between the seniors and the juniors - they are definitely listening and they are willing to learn and work hard, that is something we never have to go away from.”
He was looking forward to continuing his partnership with Nic Groom, who led the team last week and the halfback duo’s form could be a key element of the match.
“Groom is a cool head, and he is very similar to Ross, calm guys who make the right decisions at the right times. I see Nick Groom and Ross Cronje as very similar, and he is a good team man, he is a team player and that is something we stand for here at the Lions, putting the team first. Especially when he came back from overseas, the first week he got into things and the group welcomed him and he is part of us now.”
And what will the Lions bring to the party - nothing other than the same brand of rugby that has made them one of the best teams to watch over the past few seasons.
“Obviously we have experience but I’ve always said rugby fundamentals doesn’t change - you need to know when to pass, when to kick. It is about winning your set-pieces, your lineouts and scrums, making sure you get the ball at the breakdown as well. We need that to play our attacking brand of rugby, and that is something that won’t change in rugby. Definitely they also have a few Springboks, and so do we and hopefully that will boost the team and then us as well. We can then have a very good semi-final on Saturday.”
The Sharks may be home town favourites with their form in the competition this year, but the way Jantjies is talking, and the confidence in the side at the moment makes the Lions dangerous opposition.
So much so that if they fire, then the game should be a cracker.