Springbok team selection in the spotlight
Cobus Reinach and Morné Steyn making it to the Boks team for the final Test against the Lions has caused some incredulity but was not unexpected
The selection leapfrogging that has seen Cobus Reinach and Morné Steyn advance their positions at the expense of Herschel and Elton Jantjies proved to be one of the prickly topics from the Springbok team selection for the deciding Test against the British & Irish Lions.
Reinach‚ who started against Georgia when Faf de Klerk was still being knocked into shape for the Lions series, did not feature in the match day 23 for the first or second Tests.
But he is in the starting team ahead of Herschel Jantjies‚ who has operated from the bench behind De Klerk for much of the past two years. Steyn has not played a Test since 2016.
Although their selection caused some incredulity‚ it was not entirely unexpected. Reinach travelled to the 2019 Rugby World Cup (RWC) as the third scrumhalf behind De Klerk and Jantjies. He played in only two matches at the RWC but left a lasting impression with a superb hat-trick of tries against Canada.
The sentiment in Japan at the time was that he was desperately unlucky not be part of the match day 23 heading into the knockout stages of the tournament.
Reinach wore the No 9 jersey in only six of his 15 Tests. If that percentage suggests a player who may end up with splinters‚ Jantjies has been typecast wholly in the role of bench man whether or not De Klerk is starting. Although Jantjies was in the starting team on debut against Australia in Johannesburg two years ago‚ his only other start in his 13 Tests came against Namibia in Aichi at the RWC.
“The way we play Cobus and Faf is very similar while Herschel is more out of the box‚” coach Jacques Nienaber said in explaining Reinach leapfrogging Jantjies into the starting team.
“For us it is a like-for-like change. Herschel can then bring intensity.”
What he left unsaid was that Reinach’s most recent form for the Boks has outshone that of Jantjies and possibly even of De Klerk.
One position up‚ the same question is being posed. Why has Steyn cracked the nod ahead of Elton Jantjies? From the moment Steyn was named in the Bok squad there was the real possibility of his deployment in the deciding Test. Why else have him?
Steyn was after all the man who drove a stake through lion hearts with his last-gasp kick in 2009 that clinched the series. He is apparently built for moments like that‚ although that logic was momentarily abandoned in the aftermath of the Boks’ RWC exit in Wellington two years later.
“It was a toss up between Morné and Elton‚” said Nienaber. Both players performed well against the Lions on this tour and they are trying to spread the players’ workload.
“One of the big things that went in Morné’s favour is that he has been in big games like this‚” Nienaber said. “He understands the pressure. If you take the World Cup final, and if you take this game‚ the pressure is going to be similar. It’s do or die.
“Morné has been there before. He has done it before in a big game in 2009.
“I’m not saying that Elton wouldn’t have the big-match temperament. I’ve seen him do that before in big games as well. Thinking back to 2018 in New Zealand when we had our first victory there‚ he came on in the last 20-30 minutes and, with him and Handré [Pollard] at 10 and 12‚ they had an unbelievable partnership.”
That‚ however‚ will come as cold comfort for Jantjies. From the moment the Bomb Squad was locked and loaded as a regular feature, his 2019 RWC was over. There was to be no opportunity to play on the world’s grandest stage when it was most lit up.
Two years later he has had to exit the stage again. Only now‚ in the fading light‚ he has a clearer view of where he is in the overall scheme of things.