Can Elton flip the script?

Gavin Rich

History and sports science are against them and the doom merchants are out in force, but the Lions players who travel to Christchurch have a wonderful opportunity to do something special that could define some of their individual careers.

Don’t get me wrong. If the aforementioned doom merchants were assembled in a military brigade, I could easily take on the role of staff-sergeant, in the sense that covering Vodacom Super Rugby for more than two decades has given rise to a strong cynicism towards a competition that can feature such travel-inspired imbalance in what should be the showpiece end of the season.

Back in May when everyone was raving about the European final in Bilboa, the point was made that there is often too much inevitability about the Super Rugby play-off phase. That is because of the travel that is sometimes involved, and this week is a case in point. There is a reason why no team has travelled from Africa to win a play-off game in New Zealand.

But let’s not get too deflected from the point by the realities that flying west to east is more debilitating for players than the journey in the opposite direction, and that this almost automatically implies that the quality of the showpiece game of the season will be affected etc etc…

Far from being cowed or negative about what they have to face, the Lions should be eagerly embracing a great opportunity to do what no other team has ever done before and, in the space of 80 minutes, completely change perceptions of some of their players.

This is not a year where the Lions won nearly all their games and were always in top-two territory on the overall log. They lost seven out of 16 games and were given a leg up by the competition format.

But if they win a final in Christchurch, no-one will remember what went before in 2018. Instead the result will be greeted by praise of the journey that the Lions have travelled, for it would be one that could surely never be eclipsed by another Super Rugby team.

The reference point here of course is to where the Lions were just a few years ago. It is easy to forget now, but the Lions were once Super Rugby’s whipping boys – in the season that Dick Muir was in charge they lost every game.

On the basis of the perennial last-placed finish, the Lions were excluded when the politicians decreed that the Southern Kings should have a place at a South African top table that had space for only five place-mats.

That was just five years ago. The Lions have played two finals since then and on Saturday they play a third. The only thing that is preventing them from being able to describe their rise as an epic achievement is the fact they haven’t won the competition yet.

Last year was their best chance. They played the decider against the Crusaders at Ellis Park, meaning at altitude. If you doubt the impact of altitude, take a look at the replay of Ned Hanigan’s first Waratahs try in the semi-final. The guy doesn’t celebrate, his face is creased in discomfort and you can almost feel the burn in his chest.

The advantage of playing at altitude is significant enough to perhaps detract from the achievement of winning a Super Rugby final at home. Winning in Christchurch would be a lot more significant, particularly for Elton Jantjies.

The Lions flyhalf has a reputation of being unreliable in the big moments, or perhaps being a bit suspect when it comes to BMT. In the really important games, he disappears and doesn’t make his presence felt as a general who directs the play. Or so it is said.

What will Jantjies do to that perception though if he plays a starring role in an epoch-making win for his team in a final in Christchurch? Certainly the line that he isn’t the pivot that can be relied on for an away win against the All Blacks will be out of the window, along with so much else.

There are other Lions players who can make a massive deposit into their career bank account by winning in Christchurch. Warren Whiteley will take on legendary status as a captain, while Ross Cronje, Ruan Combrinck, Andries Coetzee and others are possible Bok fringe players who, by winning, will become more difficult for Rassie Erasmus to ignore.

Perception is formed through time and across many matches. It is only rarely that a player gets an opportunity to change perceptions built up through many thousands of minutes with one 80-minute performance. That opportunity has come knocking for Jantjies and some of his teammates.

Playing in Christchurch is not drawing the short-straw, it is a chance to win the Lotto.

- Gavin Rich

Let's chat

  • SweetAz

    When I was young I used to believe in fairy-tales,-If Lions kick off I expect Elton will do what Elton does,–first kickoff wont go 10 or it will go out on the full,—-and from there things will only go downhill. If Crusaders kick off, Read will tap it back and someone will score,—-within the first minute. —-and from there things will only go downhill.

    You see a lifetime of watching South African teams come and play in NZ has taught me one thing,-fairy-tales are for little children. I would love to see a fairy-tale before I die, but I’m not holding my breath.

    • Dr Hoffman

      What utter tripe, when has Elton not kicked the ball 10m or kicked it straight out. How do u sleep at night after telling such lies! Effing garbage! U telling little fairy tales your self!

    • Faghrie

      I totally agree. I would also like to see another fairytale and that is of an unbiased neutral referee with either side having a 50 50 chance of winning the game and not a foregone conclusion that is g to happen on Saturday. I will most probably watch the game the same way I watch the televised lotto. I will start out hoping for the best and after the first number is drawn lose all interest. In fact I think I have a better chance of winning the lotto than the Lions have of beating the Crusaders on Saturday.

  • John Comyn

    In a word “no” If it’s not clear by now that Elton goes missing in action in play-offs and test then the coaches have only themselves to blame if they lose. The question came up for debate after the game on TV. Stransky, James and Mallett are all of the opinion that he makes far to many bad decisions to balance the good ones he makes. He had another shocker on Saturday! Now let’s talk about something positive. When the hell is Rassie going to draft Kwagga into the Bok side??

    • Herman Schroder?

      John, talk about misinformation. The Lions have won all 6 playoffs in the last THREE years, guess who was flyhalf ??

      He didn’t go missing in action in last years final either, Jackass Peyper did.

      Oh and the 2016 final was played in ”hurricane” weather and I mean that literally.

      Mallett also said the Rassie MUST keep Jantjies in the Bok squad, he in fact was emphatic about it.

      You clearly believe you can write any rubbish and get away with it. All of my ‘facts’ are provable whereas you generalize and only only spout perceptions, just like good old Gavin.

      I’ve used spaces above so you can have time to think before hitting the keyboard.

      Cheers.

    • Dr Hoffman

      Yet he was man of the match 2 weeks ago?? Explain that genius?

    • Maxwell

      This is not about Janjies and not about that sh**t to entertain the crowd your fool as goes the same for the f****n writer ; it about beating the cream of ABs ; to win 1 game. So Lions go out there and do what Boks at their best . Hit them hard upfront; play them hard up front and kill them hard at the back. The writer should stop hitting on Elton just because he isnt Pollard or the next cravenweek Lions flyhalf he would have selected to play in the final. Stop this bull. If Elton went missing then its obvious that the forwards went missing first.

      • Dr Hoffman

        Well said maxwell, all this elton bashing is spread by pathetically weak journalisim, please see the article above! He says elton goes missing in big games and has no bmt yet he was MOM against the jags 2 weeks ago and mom in the 2016 playoffs.

      • John Comyn

        I’m not sure what you are on about. This article is about Jantjies. I can assure you we all want the Lions to win this thing.

      • Herman Schroder?

        Finally a man who knows what he is talking about. Well done Maxwell. It’s not only the Lions but the Boks as well. Elton had the misfortune like most of the Boks to be ”coached” ( and I use that word kindly ) by coaching challenged Alstair Coetzee, he who knew not who to select and what game plan to deploy. Everybody suffered during his tenure.The flyhalf being in the pivotal role had to shoulder much of the pressure and Elton is damned forever for that. Gavin mentions perceptions well it gets created and entrenched by some of the scribes who continuously look to him to produce the perfect game every time he plays. Cheers.

  • humblepie

    Gavin, I think you have serious introspection to do. This includes all your friends in the sport journalist fraternity. You have made numerous judgement errors regarding the Lions in the past 3 years and continue to find it impossible to cross the Rubicon. I don’t know where all this negativity originate from. Is it because the Lions challenged your philosophy of how the game should be played? If so, prepare for more embarrassment and hardship in years to come. At this stage, you have exhausted all your credibility as rugby journalist.
    Someone has to say it so here it goes:
    Swys and Lions team: We are immensely proud of what you have achieved in the past three years. You left your comfort zone and challenged the conventional wisdom how rugby should be played. You consistently embarrassed every critic in South Africa that attempted to guide you back to their paradigm of how rugby should be played. You stayed calm and stood firmly by your principles and beliefs. This raised the media reactions and opinions to panic levels in an effort to restore the status quo. You understood the importance of ignoring advice from those corners. You achieved these results with players that were, not too long ago, considered not good enough to be contracted by other unions.
    Regardless of what happens on Saturday in the final, I want you to know that you have (and continue to) inspired me and millions of open minded rugby supported in South Africa. We salute you.

    • Dr Hoffman

      No the Lions have changed his arrogant notion that only the bulls and the stormers can dominate SA rugby, these lame journalist are just bitter bulls/sharks and stormers supporters, so u can understand why they are so bitter and write so much utter tripe about SA’s best team.

    • Herman Schroder?

      Take a bow Humblepie the best post in SR this year !! I have been crossing swords with Gavin for years now on this very subject to no avail. Note his omission of the ‘red card’ when he referred to last years final. If the Sharks or Stormers were involved he’d be bringing it up at every occasion. I am busy with my own response to him. Cheers.

      • Dr Hoffman

        Gavin is clearly a weak and unprofessional journalist. who lets his personal feelings and bitterness get in the way of whats actually happening.

        • Albert

          Pot calling the kettle black perhaps?

    • Maxwell

      Finally someone thats making sense. I salute you.

    • Barry Smith

      No, actually it’s a pertinent question. Which Jantjies will pitch on Saturday? Crusaders probably have the best line speed on defence, so our young man will be seriously tested. If he is uncomfortable and plays from deep, our attack will be nullified. There is unlikely to be anything in it at scrum time, so dominant front Foot ball is unlikely, further increasing the pressure at 9 & 10.
      Be assured, there is no malice – at this point, every South African would like nothing other than a stand out performance from him!

      • Herman Schroder?

        Barry, Elton does not always play from deep anyway. He often takes it up but unlike Pollard he distributes with sleight of hand often to telling effect. Pollard grunts it up and goes to ground which takes the impetus away from the attack especially if his forwards are too tardy in supporting him and the ball is lost.. In other words a dom krag specialist. In fact Pollard spends most of the time in the pocket 20 to 30 metres back so that when the outside backs do get the ball they haven’t even crossed the advantage line before being snowed. Bulls version of expansive rugby, lol. Cheers.

      • Maxwell

        The forwards must pitch up first to get Elton going. Duuurrrhhh.

        • Barry Smith

          Rather read what people have to say first, let it fully sink in and then consider making a comment, otherwise you’re going to continue to change feet all the time! The Saders have 8 All Blacks in their forward mix, so even if the “forwards pitch” they are unlikely to be dominant! Jantjies will have if’ish ball. So the pertinent question from the scribe is, will he be able to perform under those conditions?

        • SweetAz

          Actually the best chance the Lions have is if the ball never gets to Elton, try and keep it in the forwards where they have parity for the entire match,-in other words keep all the running lines close to the scrum and go through the middle, recycle, recycle, contest until you get a penalty (or as Hermie says,-DOMKRAG-lol), its something the Crusaders wont be expecting from the Lions. Kick for the corners and repeat. The Crusaders are going to bring the kind of line speed that will give the Lions penalties for offsides if they can keep it in the forwards and the AR’s spot the Crusaders not getting back onside. The trick is to have a plan B and to be aware after 4 or 5 phases that you have sucked them all in.
          And I hope someone has bought a plane ticket for Suzy.

          • SweetAz

            You guys can laugh at me if you like, but Swys has basically just said exactly what I said when talking about his conference with the referee. The Crusaders are over the offside line a LOT of the time within 10 metres of the halfback, they seldom fully retreat. Its humanly impossible to get the kind of linespeed they achieve without cheating. SO how do YOU brightsparks want to combat something I CAN GUARANTEE the hometown AR will not be bringing to the refs attention???? I can almost guarantee the LIONS backline will be receiving man and ball with Goodhue and Crotty turning the ball over. Elton will stand deep to combat that and that will be a mistake, a better move is to recycle and use the speedy Kwagga and Whitely to go through the middle. To me that seems to be the Lions one superiority,–their loosies are quicker.

          • Dr Hoffman

            Thank the lord u are not the coach!

          • Jon Byrne Jon Byrne

            LOL done any coaching lately?

          • Herman Schroder?

            Good one, lol. Cheers.

  • Stephen

    One needs to take into account how the other teams target Jantjies off the ball when considering his BMT. The England locks consistently hammered him in CT, as they had done Faf before. From the Sharks game he still has the scar on his cheek where Ruan Botha pushed him from behind into the ground. In last years final, he was tip-tackled by Read, legs lifted above hips, shoulder rammed into the ground and there wasn’t even a penalty. This was before the Kwagga incident. He takes it, even though it effects his game, he hasn’t complained. On Saturday he did make bad decisions, but that is also how one learns. We don’t have many options, and Williamse has yet to be really tested.

    • Herman Schroder?

      Stephen, Quite correct. If it was any of the other brittle flyhalfs like Pollard, Lambie, Willemse and even Du Preez they would have taken the rest of the year off. Teflon Jantjies gives you your monies worth. Cheers.

    • Maxwell

      I agree. We need to realise that there is a rugbyplayer generation gap between ABs and the Boks. Our juniors are competing against their top players.its the franchise’s coaches responsibly to close that gap as soon as possible. The players need to take responsibility. Its either the Springboks or the highway. Players need to understand that the Springboks interest comes first. Only them we ‘ll be competitive again.

      • Jon Byrne Jon Byrne

        But then we need our teams to play Springbok style rugby? our teams should be fully committed toward the Springbok cause! We have seen the Bulls ans Sharks being much more expansive, schools need to get on board as well only then will we start being much more competitive, i do believe that’s one of the reasons why Rassie was brought in to focus on the bigger picture and get the systems/structures ready from school level upward. Rassie will leave the Boks after the World Cup and then we have to look for a new coach again? Feels like things are moving quite slowly!

  • Herman Schroder?

    Quite a few of my points have already been mentioned on this site ( and I’m talking about the enlightened ones here ) but let me just add the following.

    1. The Lions success which now includes 3 Conference wins, 6 winning play off games ( three of which were NZ teams ) and two finals the single common denominator attributed to that wonderful record is of course the all important No 10. which is of course the pivotal position in any team. Can Elton be that bad that he must be put on trial every time he plays ?

    2. Last year in what should have been a fairy tale ending the Lions were ‘robbed’ by Jackass Peyper with his knee jerk ‘red card’. The Lions lost and Elton has no BMT was the ‘haters’ clarion cry. Even in Gavin’s article today he omits to mention the red card as a mitigating factor preferring to heap more pressure on Elton for Saturdays game.

    3. In the Bok setup it was the same story. Boks outplayed game after game and hey No 10 is to blame. Never mind just about every other player playing crap and their poor performances never mentioned in the after match write ups. Every time Elton was named and shamed. Perceptions were created and the scribes have continued on that course even till today.

    4. Everyone agrees that Elton and the Lions play a special game. Elton plays with an open rugby mindset and anyone can tell you that it does carry some risk. At the Lions they give him the freedom and he and the team prosper as they always back themselves to outscore the opposition. Elton is integral to that philosophy. You see Pollard ‘Mr Reliable ” does not do that, preferring the safety first approach where you try nothing so you can’t make mistakes. otherwise known as ‘dom krag 101’. The Bulls play it ( despite Mitchell ) the Sharks and the Stormers play it and none of those teams really featured in SR this year in fact they were disgraceful. Yet where do most of the ‘haters’ come from ? you connect the dots.

    5. I’m not surprised at all if Elton is feeling the pressure. No player is as maligned as he is. Even last Saturday on the SS panel show where they agreed he had a good game they had to mention one or two things that went awry. Fortunately as usual Mallett came out to bat for Elton in no uncertain terms. Mallett knows the Lions are on the right track. Imagine if the Sharks had won that game ( lol ) and the flyhalf had a poor outing it would not even have been mentioned.

    6. I don’t agree with Gavin that the Lions need to win on Saturday so that the Lions players can be taken into consideration for the Boks. They’ve already done enough to be front line players, not only this year but in the past as well. Their omissions from the original Bok squad in order to help Rassie with his transformation imperatives is a travesty of justice.

    7. Talking about BMT. How do these other 40 odd Boks playing in the other three Franchises claim to have BMT when even with a majority of Boks in their run on teams they get klapped every game. In what place must they be from a confidence point of view ? Oh boy.

    8. And finally, game plan. Rassie has a problem of his own making. He still has the best team playing ‘real’ rugby and the others playing goodness knows what. He must now weld this lot into a workable unit. The RC is on our doorstep and all he proved in the England series is that three overseas players saved his bacon. He has a team of winners and three loser teams with mentalities to match. Good luck my friend.

    So on to Saturday for the grand finale. Win or lose the Lions remain – Simply the Best !!! Cheers.

    • Dr Hoffman

      You would make a far better rugby journalist than this Gavin person, whoever he is.

    • John Comyn

      Herman – Elton has been given more chances than any player in SA’s history over a period of 6 years to prove he is a match winner at the highest level. How do you attribute poor kicking (goal & field) to the coach and the “haters”, the selectors, physio and the ball boys. I would take a small punt on The Lions on Saturday if it were not for the Elton factor. Oh and lets be honest you don’t want Rassie to succeed. You were pissed when we won the English series!

      • Dean

        I agree with John. Every excuse has been used in defense of Elton’s poor form in big games. He wilts under the pressure time and again. He shines on the Highveld and goes MIA during big games that aren’t perfect conditions. We have a recent reminder in the England series. Last year’s final and the one before that. Crusaders will take this one. They have only lost 2 out of 17 or 18 games this season. They beat the Lions in Joburg at altitude. The Crusaders have not lost a single game at home this year. The Lions only win away from South Africa this year was against the Waratahs. They have not won against any New Zealand team this year. It’s telling.

      • Herman Schroder?

        By the way John. did Rassie really succeed ? Three ‘uitlanders’ had to bail him out in the two tests he ‘won’ ( remember he admits it wasn’t his game plan ) and he lost the other two. Now I know a 50% win ratio or worse is acceptable to the Stormers, Sharks and Bulls but most teams strive for better. In fact Alistair had a better start than he has had and he is as poor a coach as you are likely to get and he did not even have any of the ‘perks’ Rassie has been showered with.

        Also more misinformation on your part is Elton’s experience. Most forget that when Elton was picked for the first Ireland test in 2016 he only had 3 or 4 tests under his belt so was very inexperienced at test level. He then had the misfortune of having Alistair as the game planner and the rest is of course history.

        Remember also that in NZ players get bled into the AB’s over a long period until they are ready to take their place especially at flyhalf. Carter, Barrett prime examples and they had a team around them at the top of their game. So please cut the guy some slack.

        Three finals is at the highest level barring tests so what more must he do or are you one of those people who consider winning a trophy as the only measure of a man and his team ?. What rubbish. Cheers.

      • Herman Schroder?

        John, I’ve just answered another one of your misinformation posts above which basically counters your above epistle to the ‘haters’. I assume you will take the trouble to read it.

        Instead of these abbreviated generalizations you come up with why don’t you read my extended post and answer with your own insight paragraph by paragraph giving your reasons for disagreeing with me. Maybe by doing that it will open your mind to the real world of expansive rugby as played by Teflon Jantjies.

        I look forward to your input. Cheers.

      • Dr Hoffman

        The Eton factor has gotten us to 3 finals in 3 years, so what the hell are u talking about, that u would back them if it wasnt for elton, he is one of the main reason they are there in the first place. suck on that hater! What a dumbass comment.

        • Albert

          You are such a rude person. Why can you not “win” arguments without the vile abuse? Maybe you should go see a specialist like a real doctor.

          Good luck Mr. Hoffman.

          • Albert

            Mr. Hoffman, your comment just proves that you are a very disrespectful and rude individual. Someone who hides behind his screen, a keyboard worrier, a coward. I feel sorry for you as it is very clear you struggle to convey your words without being abusive. I really hope you find the help you so desperately need, Mr. Hoffman. And I certainly hope that this vile abusive behaviour does not translate to your personal life and relationships. But most importantly, I forgive you for calling me “a small syringe for douching the vag*na, especially as a contraceptive measure”.

          • Dr Hoffman

            ouch my feelings! Rude ha! thanks for the Good luck wishes, same to you douche bag! hows them apples?

        • Herman Schroder?

          Flatten him Doc, lol, Cheers.

  • Maxwell

    Elton will drop, score and place on Saturday. Go Elton.

  • SweetAz

    ROFL,-The Elton fanboys on this site are a bit like Jehova’s Witnesses. -Suckers for punishment. I will be back on Sunday to giggle or apologize. Of one thing I am convinced, at some stage on Saturday EJ is going to do something that no decent International quality flyhalf will do. Whether its drop the ball, miscue a kick or just irritate me with his hairstyle ;-),
    Despite all that I really hope the Lions win this thing if for no other reason that it will shut the arrogant kiwi’s up.

    • Maxwell

      I think you only hate his hairstyle. Are you by any means a hairstylist or bald?

      • SweetAz

        You totally miss the point mate, so I will try and explain it for you. Rugby is a TEAM sport, perhaps the ultimate team sport. When an individual does attention grabbing things like stupid hairstyles or wearing makeup on a rugby-field its a reflection of his personality. It denotes deep insecurity and an unnatural desire to be the center of attention. These are traits that are anathema to TEAM Sport, its the kind of thing you expect from tennis players or the odd (very odd) soccer player.
        As such its very difficult to take the individual seriously and it provides good insight as to his inability to deal with pressure.—-OR MAYBE its a cultural thing?—WHo knows, I just know if some wanker pitched up with a hairstyle like that to visit my daughter he will make an unhappy acquaintance with my shotgun.

        • Mikey

          “When an individual does attention grabbing things…” What like the name “SweetAz?” Even spelled as one word with a capital “A” and a “z” nogal. Oh I am sure it denotes deep insecurity and an unnatural desire to be the center of attention. Oh the irony and hypocrisy of it all LOL! Lets not forget the shotgun comment… ooooh… you’re so tough!!

        • Maxwell

          I just hope for your daughter’s sake you shot the JackAz with the nice hairstyle and not the SweetAz with weird hairstyle, because looks can be deceiving. Look SweetAz with the shotgun if the weird hairstyle contributes to the TEAM success and the teammates like his hairstyle why change the recipe and that is what the Lions’ culture is all about. Its not about the rules but the team spirit. Its the team spirit and unity that brings success. It will be foolish to think otherwise. Crusaders are the perfect example.

  • SweetAz

    Well like I said he would,-he did. Aimless kick to Mounga–7 points. Carried ball back—3 points. Arms too short to score—–7 points. Missed easy conversion 2 points. TOTAL = 19 points and the winning margin.
    Please, oh please don’t EVER let this guy play for the Boks again.

  • SweetAz

    Now the game is over we can all see that if the LIONS kicked the 9 penalties they got in the red zone=27 points they would have won the game.——Something an international quality flyhalf would have done with ease

  • Maxwell

    What about whithley marx dreyer coetzee kwagga cronje. What about the Lions coachstaff. Had they learned nothing. You cant copycat a Crusaderteam. PLAY SPRINGBOKRUGBY.Worrying factor for your friend Rassie. I guess Rassie is setup to break Toeties record. The running gameplan of Lions fitted the Saders because it made attack predictable and enforce their well oiled gameplan. If the Lions had played ” DOMRUGBY ” ( SPRINGBOKRUGBY)with more intensity. The ballgame would have gone the Lions way. All they needed to do was to slow the game down to frustrate and starving them in order to get under their skin and and divide and create doubt in them as team. This is a sickness in SA couching not analyse the opposition’s game tactics and breakdown of gameplan. Out of frustration you want to shoot the guy with the bad hairstyle and the couch that wasnt part of a certain structure acceptable to others while the problem is the guy with the nice hairstyle and black heart. My message is that we need to bring back the BOKRUGBY. Rebooted and now to its full potential. 3x Stronger ,3×faster and 3x more colour THE SPRINGBOKS 2.0

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