OPINION: Nienaber has been right to defend Jantjies after taking a gamble

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Having gambled and lost with his selection of Elton Jantjies at flyhalf, Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber did well in his brave attempt to limit the damage to his player’s confidence after the first Test against Wales at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday.

Jantjies endured a miserable first half of skewed kicks out-of-hand, missed shots at goal and a dropped ball that led to a try, and was substituted before the start of the second half with the Springboks 18-3 down.

ALSO READ: Fiery first Test between Springboks and Wales hints at an exciting series

Barring a few exceptions, the whole team had been sub-par in the first half, but with the help of pugnacious input from the bench, they staged a stirring comeback to win 32-29.

It was only right, though, that Nienaber stand up for Jantjies because the player was put in a challenging position by being selected for the first Test with, as the coach himself said after the match, “less than 30 minutes of game-time this year”.

It is understandable why the risk was taken with Jantjies, who only just recovered from a shoulder injury and whose club did not make the playoffs of Japan’s Rugby League One.

Mental stress

The 31-year-old has also had the mental stress of being charged with malicious damage to property and contravention of the Aviation Act to deal with, before those charges were withdrawn after he agreed to pay for the damage he caused to an aeroplane flying back from Turkey.

Flyhalf is one of the few positions where the Springboks are lacking depth and the management were obviously planning ahead in case first-choice Handre Pollard got injured. If Jantjies then had to come in and play with so little rugby under his belt, it could have been even worse.

ALSO READ: Plenty for Boks to work on in next two games against Wales

The World Cup winner does now at least have 40 minutes of game-time, and hopefully the trauma of it has not dented his confidence too much.

Nienaber tried to sugarcoat Jantjies’ replacement with Damian Willemse at the weekend as being because “he had given everything”, but when he said “he hasn’t played any rugby” he was closer to the reason why.

ALSO READ: Kolisi praises Boks for fighting back in ‘massive’ battle against Wales

Despite the fan furore, Jantjies is still a player who has much to offer the Springboks. What he is capable of when in form definitely adds some attacking spark to a team which, for long periods of the first half against Wales, looked desperately in need of some offensive verve.

How he bounces back from this calamitous showing is what matters now

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