Super Rugby

Jantjies, Cronje the heart of the Lions

Johannesburg - There are few players who polarise opinion in South African rugby as much as Lions flyhalf Elton Jantjies does.  

There are those who believe that he gets a raw deal from critics, and then there are the critics who argue that his inconsistency and inability to step up in big matches is problematic. 

Both sides of that argument would have felt vindicated at different stages of Saturday's Super Rugby semi-final against the Hurricanes at Ellis Park. 

In the first half, Jantjies was error-prone. He made poor decisions, threw loose passes and his kicking out of hand was below par. 

It hurt the Lions on the scoreboard too. One of the tries was a direct result of a Jantjies pass to nobody and, at 22-3 down, it looked like there was no way back for the hosts. 

Of course, one of the great comebacks in Super Rugby history followed, and Jantjies was at the heart of it. 

His display in the second half was that of a different player, and while New Zealand's wonder kid Beauden Barrett spent 10 minutes in the sin-bin, Jantjies pulled the strings as his side scored five second half tries to book their place in this weekend's tournament final.

"Luckily it looks like we've got a good relationship, not like Brendan said," Lions coach Johan Ackermann said after the match. 

Ackermann was hitting back at Springbok assistant coach Brendan Venter, who wrote a column questioning the decision to substitute Jantjies in the quarter-final against the Sharks. 

Jantjies had an absolute shocker that day, but his second-half performance against the 'Canes suggests that there should be no cause for panic. 

"I'm proud of him. The forwards had a great platform for him and the guy was exceptional," Ackermann added. 

Jantjies' half-back partner, Ross Cronje, was given the man-of-the-match award. 

He scored a try, made some darting runs, tackled for his life and kicked intelligently. 

It was a big performance from the man who is looking increasingly likely to make the Springbok No 9 jersey his own.

"Ross is in exceptional form this year and hopefully it keeps on going," Ackermann said.

"His calmness and decision-making was good. He had a few snipes but, most of all, his defence was good. He was also my man of the match, so credit to him."

Everywhere you look in this Lions team, there are combinations that are thriving, and the half-back pairing of Cronje and Jantjies is certainly one of those. 

Hopefully, on Saturday, the Jantjies that played the first half against the 'Canes is nowhere to be seen. 

Follow Sport24 journalist @LloydBurnard on Twitter...

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