Super Rugby

Scramble for Jantjies highlights Lions' long-standing flyhalf problem

Elton Jantjies (Getty Images)
Elton Jantjies (Getty Images)

The scramble to eventually keep Elton Jantjies at Ellis Park wasn't merely about the Lions losing their captain and best player.

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It was surely also the fear that the franchise would then be left with virtually no depth in terms of proven class in the flyhalf position.

With Shaun Reynolds, who endured a fairly unfulfilled stint in Doornfontein, off to France, a Jantjies departure would've left the Lions with 21-year-old James Mollentze and 22-year-old Gianni Lombard - who has six Super Rugby caps - on their books.

That Jantjies chose not to give in to the overtures of French club Agen was a massive relief, but really should now have spooked the Lions into addressing a longstanding problem.

It dates backs all the way to the end of 2016, when Marnitz Boshoff packed his bags for Connacht in Ireland and one that became acute once Jaco van der Walt went to Edinburgh a year later.

However, while the hierarchy can be accused of over-reliance on Jantjies, the issue is complex, which perhaps mitigates it.

About four years ago, then head coach Johan Ackermann was intermittently questioned on why Boshoff was rarely seen on the bench once Jantjies established himself as first-choice pivot.

He was forthright in his typically diplomatic manner, explaining that the two players - as internationals - were fiercely competitive in terms of wanting to be top dog.

Neither Boshoff nor Jantjies ever publicly complained of being "relegated" to being impact players, but Ackermann had deduced that the most effective way to get the best out of both was to let them start.

Jantjies did so in Super Rugby, Boshoff in the then un-sponsored Provincial Series.

When Jantjies injured a finger just before that year's international break, Boshoff slotted in seamlessly and helped mastermind a brilliant 56-20 victory at Loftus.

Afterwards, he was dropped with thanks.

There's a lot of romanticism among South African rugby fans when it comes to situations like that.

Why can't players be adaptable for the sake of the team?

If a coach picks you, even as a substitute, it's still an honour, why sulk?

But that's not how modern team dynamics work anymore.

One can easily flip the question and ask: Why can't a player continue to strive for excellence, even if it means he initially only gets a starting spot in the lower tiers?

Ironically, the Jantjies-Boshoff duel (if one can even call it that) merely was a foretaste of a situation that would be repeated at various other unions.

Curwin Bosch vs Robert du Preez; Damian Willemse vs Jean-Luc du Plessis; Morne Steyn vs Manie Libbok.

Other factors have also played a part in the Lions' pickle.

One is Jantjies' immense will to play as many games as possible.

His training regime and conditioning has now become the stuff of legend and he'll always insist the more the plays, the better he is.

Would any coach truly deny him that?

We're talking about Super Rugby's player-of-the-decade for goodness sake.

The Lions were also cruelly denied an opportunity last year to groom Lombard, who, after a promising performance against the Chiefs in Hamilton with Jantjies on his outside at 12, injured knee ligaments and would've only returned recently had Super Rugby not been suspended.

In the end, the beleaguered franchise has been spared a very thorny issue.

But they can't allow the status quo to remain.  

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