Saturday at Loftus proved to be a rude awakening for the Bok players and management, as well as the fans both in and out of the stadium. Shortly before kick off, I looked around me at the jam packed stadium and thought, with this stadium behind them, the Boks would smash Wales. I believed it so much that I raised my Superbru pick to Boks by 22. It didn't take long for me to realise I had made a terrible mistake.
I had just finished telling my grandfather next to me how Rees-Zammit was one of the quickest wingers in the game and next second he was dotting the ball down for the first of the Welsh tries. With the Springboks priding themselves on their defensive prowess, Loftus was stunned into silence. A silence that continued deep into the 70th minute of the game. It was a collective misfire by the green and gold for large parts of the game, but credit must also be given to Wales for the way in which they fronted up and took the game to the Boks.
There was one player in particular though, who had a real shocker. Elton Jantjies snapped up a good high ball early on in the game, but nothing went right for him after that. He was missing his kicks at post, kicking possession away aimlessly, missing tackles and failing to kick the ball into touch. Basically everything you want from your flyhalf, was not there. Head Coach Jacques Nienaber was quick to come to his defense however:
"I think Elton probably played less than 30 minutes this year. He did his shoulder and he obviously went through his rehab. Also his Japanese club didn't go to the final, so there were no games to expose him to. The only exposure he probably had the whole year was at training."
This for me is inexcusable. How do you pick a player who is both out of form and not match fit to start a test match? What possible justification is there for that? Test rugby is not the place to find for, or gather up game time. Go do that with your club or find some club games to get exposed again. We have seen the All Blacks use their domestic leagues for this before. The Springboks almost lost in front of 50 000+ fans because of a ridiculous decision.
Manie Libbok and Chris Smith both could have done a better job than what was on display on Saturday. They guided their teams all the way to the URC final and are both in form. So why stick with a player like Elton? I would love to say he is there on reputation, but is that even true? The only genuinely great contribution he has given to the Boks was against the All Blacks in 2021. Jacques Nienaber can be so grateful Damian Willemse stepped up to the plate, or he would be facing the music with the press this week.
Unfortunately the thought of this being Jantjies last chance is nothing but a dream. The Boks have refused to build depth at 10, selecting only Pollard and Elton for the role. Damian Willemse can clearly cover the roll, but ultimately he is not in line for selection at flyhalf. This means we are in for another full season of Elton with the Boks, getting minimal game time behind Pollard and losing another year to groom a youngster that is so badly needed.
Elton by all rights could find his way back into form and rejoin the Boks once he has some game time under his belt, he should be sent back to Japan to do that. To have him there and to use test rugby as the ground to gain form, is the biggest contradiction to what the management says is required to make the squad in the first place. The fans deserve better than what we got at the weekend and the Bok management need to make smarter choices around selection.