When the Springbok team for Saturday’s Rugby Championship opener against Australia at Ellis Park is announced on Wednesday, there’ll be a distinct sense of renewal being mixed with proven class and experience in the backline.
That feeling isn’t better illustrated than the case of Herschel Jantjies and Frans Steyn.
VIDEO: Springboks assistant coach Mzwandile Stick on the influence of the overseas-based players in the squad.
Posted by The Citizen Sport on Tuesday, 16 July 2019
Jantjies, the 23-year-old Stormers scrumhalf who lit up Super Rugby this season, is expected to complete a meteoric rise by making his Test debut in the starting XV, while the enigmatic Steyn will be back on the bench.
It’s a dynamic that has assistant coach Mzwandile Stick’s mouth genuinely watering.
THE ROOKIE: ‘Jantjies can become great’
It’s hardly unusual for uncapped players to force their way into the Springbok team in a World Cup year.
In fact, Jesse Kriel only played one Super Rugby campaign before making Heyneke Meyer’s squad in 2015.
But there’s different dynamic to Jantjies’ fairy tale.
He wasn’t really on the radar as a junior player despite making Western Province’s Craven Week side twice.
And, unlike others, hardly destined for greatness.
Jantjies was so lightly regarded that in late 2017 Province even allowed Welsh club Llanelli Scarlets to borrow him for a week just to fill their bench for a Pro14 fixture against the Cheetahs.
His luck though, was about to change.
Following a solid Currie Cup in 2018, Jantjies thrust himself into the limelight, scoring a sublime match-clinching try as replacement against the Lions and the long-term injury to the man he substituted, Jano Vermaak, gave him the unexpected prospect of proper game-time.
He hasn’t looked back.
“Life is all about opportunities,” said Stick on Tuesday.
“The boy was given a chance by the Stormers and he grabbed it with both hands. I remember watching him getting an opportunity at the end of 2018 when the Stormers were already out of contention. He did very well. I’ve been following him closely ever since.”
Small in stature, Jantjies has differentiated himself by playing like a giant.
And, importantly, it’s not his flashy moments that have caught the eye.
“The one thing about him is that he’s very clinical in terms of his basic skills. He’s got a good pass and when the opportunity to arises, he will snipe and score brilliant tries. He’s not a big guy, but he makes the big tackles. That shows he’s in a good mental space.”
THE VETERAN – ‘Fresh’ Frans remains Frans
Stick chuckles when he’s asked where the 31-year-old utility back will slot in for the national side.
The more things change, the more they stay the same…
“I think the question people are asking now is the same one that’s been asked since 2007,” he said.
“He’s just a special rugby player. He’ll always be a utility back.”
Steyn has enhanced his reputation in the latter stages of his career as a muscular, skillful midfielder though it remains to be seen whether head coach Rassie Erasmus agrees.
“He can fit in at flyhalf, at centre and cover fullback. Frans is just a natural footballer,” said Stick.
“It’s really great to have him present, especially at this stage of the season. He’s gained 12 years’ experience since the 2007 World Cup. He’s looking fresh. To be honest, he’s still running around like he’s 21.”
Stick also sounds thrilled at having Steyn as a de facto assistant on the training field.
“We’re really happy to have him as a ‘coach’. From my side, he brings a lot of experience to our backline and it took him less than a week to fit in with our squad. I’m really happy to have him.”