Lions captain Elton Jantjies has been the standout performer in the opening fortnight of Super Rugby Unlocked. His display against the Stormers at Newlands was brilliant.
Jantjies, who has played 37 Test matches, has often copped it for never quite replicating Super Rugby and domestic form at Test level, but with no Test rugby for the Springboks this year that debate gets put on hold until 2021.
World Cup-winning Springbok coach and National Director of Rugby Rassie Erasmus a fortnight ago was vocal that in Handre Pollard’s injury-enforced absence, Jantjies was the number one Springbok choice.
Youngsters Curwin Bosch and Damian Willemse are in the flyhalf queue, some way behind Jantjies, and to add depth to the South African flyhalf situation, Robert du Preez has shown promise for Sale Sharks and veteran Morne Steyn can always slot into a one-off Test situation.
But it is Jantjies who has shone brightest, despite the Lions narrowly losing in Durban and Cape Town.
I’ve been impressed with Jantjies’s leadership and he thrives on the captaincy. His all-round attacking game has no equal in the country, when it comes to flyhalves. His cross-kick attacking weapon is lethal, he takes the ball to the line and he is the most creative, if not necessarily the most direct, of the South African-based flyhalves.
I have always preferred Pollard to Jantjies as the Test starting option, but consistently Jantjies has been the form South African flyhalf in Super Rugby and when he has played in the Currie Cup.
People tend to remember the goalkicks Jantjies misses (and they aren’t many) instead of the many he has kicked in the most trying circumstances. He is one of the best goalkickers in the world, with a strike rate that is consistently in the high 70s and in several seasons he has averaged in the mid 80s.
Jantjies has matured incredibly in the past two seasons. He is also a player who is inspired by coaches who back him and entrust his talents.
Erasmus is one such coach and all his coaches at the Lions have looked to Jantjies as the general.
Allister Coetzee, in the season Jantjies was on loan to the Stormers, did not share the faith. In the 13 matches Jantjies played for the Stormers, he kicked just 11 points – and that was out of a possible 20 points. Jantjies’s crime was to miss two early penalties in his first match for the Stormers and he was rarely used as a kicker after this, despite having been one of the top points scorers for the Lions the season before, when his strike rate was 86%.
Jantjies can kick a ball, for the touchline and at posts. He has scored 1157 Super Rugby points for the Lions in 129 matches and 496 for the Golden Lions in 44 matches. He has also contributed 281 points for the Springboks in 37 matches.
He is playing with such confidence and such authority. He is leading a young team and he and Jaco Kriel are the senior statesmen of the Lions.
It is going to be a treat to watch him play all season in South Africa, just like it is going to be a treat to have all the current Springboks playing in South Africa’s domestic competition.
The Lions, despite falling short in two away games, have shown enough form to suggest they will be a top four contender.
The Cheetahs have started strongly with two wins, but I fear the absence, through injury, of veteran Ruan Pienaar for the next few months will put a dent in any play-off aspirations.
The Stormers were poor against the Lions but will get better with more games, the Bulls have been disappointing in both matches and the Sharks were fortunate to hang onto a win against the Lions.
After two weeks, no one team, has towered above the other, which tells you this competition is going to be a ripper and I expect every team to lose as much as they win when the top five plays each other.