Morne Steyn scored all 18 of the Springbok’s points against Australia and as such was instrumental in snapping a 3 game losing streak – getting the Boks a win. Would it surprise you if this performance single handedly end Elton Jantjies’ Springbok tenure? At least for now? Not at all in our opinion.
Jantjies was the best SA number 10 during Super Rugby by far. He mixed a keen attacking flair, with solid tactical kicking and maintained a relatively good record at the sticks too. Sure he was a little iffy on defense, but given the above, plus an injury to Lambie, he deserved a crack at bedding down the number 10 shirt.
But the consensus seems to be that he didn’t convince.
Then in game 5 of the Rugby Championship – Morne Steyn was introduced and while the Springboks still looked far from polished – we looked better.
Was this because Morne is a better flyhalf than Elton? Not by a long shot.
But what it does probably mean is that international rugby, and Bok rugby in particular, is probably better suited to a player like Morne Steyn rather than a player like Jantjies. And Steyn’s performance illuminated Jantjies’ shortcomings, albeit unfortunately.
While Allister Coetzee might have come in and beat the drum about “attacking rugby” and “giving the ball some air” and even “learning from the Lions” – having these kinds of tactics at the heart of your game plan will not win you many international matches. Not against top sides at least. International rugby is about attrition, it’s about accuracy and it’s often times about being conservation.
These are the realities of international rugby and as a result, over the course of the last couple of years – Springbok flyhalves, in the good sides, have all been very similar and unfortunately those that don’t fit in this mould, don’t make it.
Lets look at a couple of these characteristics.
Play from deeper
The first is that unless it is a strategic decision – international flyhalves are almost always deeper in the pocket than those that ply their trade on the local stage. Watch Morne Steyn when he sets his backline – he is deep. While this makes him slower and less likely to launch a stinging attack – it affords him more time and more control. The reality of the situation, and I have said this over and over again, one of the main reasons Jantjies is able to play the style of rugby he does – is because the Lions play a game plan that allows it. The Lions’ forwards get out of bed in the morning to provide the halfbacks with quality, quick ball and that is far tougher on the international stage.
Deadly accurate from the kicking tee
You can’t play at number 10 on the international stage unless you have an 80%+ conversion rate at posts. Cast your mind back to all the successful flyhalves we had in recent history; Honibal, James, Pienaar, Steyn, Lambie, Pollard etc – they all were incredibly reliable when it comes to goal kicking (I know James didn’t kick much but Montgomery was in the team). While Elton is more than competent in this regard – he is a confidence player – and I think when he can’t get his backline away he drops his head and his accuracy suffers.
Conservative > flair
This is a tougher one to swallow and while I am not saying it is wrong or right – there is no doubt that, to date, – Bok flyhalves have played conservatively. While this is partly due to them playing deeper (point 1 above), it is also due to the fact that their skill sets are different. They are solid distributors, sure, but their main skill set is their feet. They are great at up and unders, kicking for the corners, dinks in behind and then for posts (point 2 above). There is definitely room for more flair at 10 for the Springboks and this is something that Elton could offer.
I think the point I am trying to make here is that despite all Elton’s good qualities – the Lions game plan hasn’t done his Springbok aspirations any good in that it has made him into a player that is totally opposite to the 3 points above and as a result – he will always play behind a Morne Steyn in the squad.
It will be interesting to see what happens when Pollard is back but I suspect that with Pollard, Lambie and Steyn still with a few years left in them – Elton will find himself setting the local scene alight but struggling on the international one.
What’s your thoughts, guys? As always we’d love to hear them. Hit us with a reply below or with a tweet @leftbacks and lets get the debate started!