CAPE TOWN – The Lions will need Elton Jantjies to stay injury free to ensure that they have a real chance at going the distance during the upcoming domestic season.
Every team, every player on the South African rugby landscape will be eager to do their absolute best when they run out again after more than six months of no rugby. How can they not?
There isn’t any team that won’t want to go out gunning for both trophies – the Super Rugby Unlocked and Currie Cup silverware – and if the Lions want to pen that down as a serious goal, they’ll need Jantjies, that’s for sure.
South African rugby is set to kick off this weekend in the form of Super Fan Saturday matches in Pretoria, with the Stormers going up against the Lions and the Bulls taking on the Sharks.
This weekend will be followed by the Springbok Showdown in Cape Town on October 3, after which the seven provincial teams will head into a double round of local action over 16 weekends with the two trophies up for grabs.
The first round of matches – from October 10 to November 21 – will be for Super Rugby Unlocked honours, with the winners coming from whichever of the Bulls, Sharks, Lions, Stormers, Cheetahs, Griquas or Pumas has the most log points.
All log points will then be carried forward into the second round – the Currie Cup from November 28 to January 9, 2021 – which will culminate in semi-finals on January 16 and a final on January 23 next year.
Last year, the Lions didn’t have the best Super Rugby season – they placed ninth overall – while they stumbled at the final hurdle in the Currie Cup, finishing as runners-up.
So it’s probably safe to say that they will want to go one better where the Currie Cup competition is concerned.
And a vital element in the quality of their performances to get there will be Jantjies.
With Shaun Reynolds having joined second-division Uson Nevers in France, the Lions’ den isn’t exactly brimming with players who can expertly rock the general’s boots.
As back-up, there’s the talented Gianni Lombard – a superb organiser and top creator of fine attacking opportunities, and a player who shone when he donned the fullback jersey while playing for the Junior Springboks and SA Schools.
The fact that he also brings a kicking boot that can strike beautifully makes him an even more attractive package.
And while there’s no doubt that Lombard can do a fine job as a flyhalf if he gets more runs in that role, the reality is that he has thrived in the kind of space an outside back mostly enjoys; that’s where he’s made most of his statements.
Again, that’s not at all to say he can’t have a real future at No 10. He’s probably headed there anyway.
Then there’s James Mollentze, another back-up option to Jantjies who doesn’t run low on talent stores, but who lacks experience at this level.
Point is, if the Lions are to really have a top season this year, they should hope that Jantjies, the man who’s steered them to three Super Rugby finals, manages to side-step injury.