Elton Jantjies will be aiming to embrace his decision-making responsibilities in the final against the Crusaders in Christchurch, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
Quite remarkably, Jantjies has played every minute of the Lions’ Super Rugby campaign so far this season – a figure only matched by teammate Franco Mostert – with the Lions flyhalf racking up 165 points along the way.
Although Jantjies has not always been at his mercurial best this year, his recent performances in the two playoff games to date have been quite outstanding (he was named Man of the Match in the quarter-final victory over the Jaguares).
In South African rugby, Jantjies never seems to be too far away from the spotlight, and the critics that seem to follow his every move will no doubt be lying in wait ahead of a high-pressure final away from the comfort of Ellis Park.
Yet the irony is that the 27-year-old remains one of the most laidback characters in the Lions camp, which was reflected in his musings to the media ahead of Saturday’s title decider.
‘I don’t think we’ll be feeling too much pressure because we are well prepared. As a team, we’ve been in two [back-to-back] Super Rugby finals, and there can’t be any better preparation than that.
‘The biggest thing for this group is that we’ve been learning from every time we’ve played together, and we’ve come a long way over the past few years. I think back on our historic first-ever win over the Chiefs in Hamilton [in 2016]. We have a lot of unity as a group, and the culture is indescribable. We’re going to go out there in the final to enjoy ourselves, and we don’t want to put too much pressure on ourselves.’
The duel between Jantjies and opposite number Richie Mo’unga is one that will surely capture the imagination of most observers, with the latter having spearheaded the Crusaders’ semi-final victory over the Hurricanes last Saturday.
However, Jantjies moved to insist that his focus was only on ensuring that he brought out the best in the teammates alongside him.
‘I want to improve as an individual each week, to serve my team and inspire them in any way possible. I want the players around me to be able to express themselves, and then I have to make the decisions of when to run, kick or pass. It’s a responsibility that I enjoy.
‘At times this year, we’ve been through a rollercoaster ride on and off the field, but it all comes back to our team culture and what we stand for. We’ll be up for it no matter who the opposition is.’
The fact that Jantjies has played a whopping 1,440 minutes of game time this season reflects the faith placed in him by coach Swys de Bruin, who lavished praise on the pivot this week.
‘What I love about Elton is that he makes tough calls; calls that other flyhalves don’t make. He is part of the spine of the team, who could turn it our way,’ said De Bruin.
The Lions are set to name their team for the final on Thursday, with the only change expected to be the return of fit-again Cyle Brink on the flank.
Photo: Photo by Matt King/Getty Images