Invest in Elton and Jan

MARK KEOHANE writes the Stormers coaching staff must persist with Elton Jantjies and the Bulls must play Jan Serfontein.

Jantjies did not play any of the Stormers pre-season matches because of his father’s death three weeks ago and his performance did not betray the turmoil of what he has had to endure. His mind is understandably burdened and he showed the hesitancy of a player lacking in game time. He will get better but he can only do so if he plays.

Peter Grant is back from Japan this week, but it would be unfair on Jantjies to start Grant. Jantjies is an outstanding goal kicker and his failure at Loftus was not consistent with what he has produced in his Super Rugby career, which before Saturday’s match was an 80 percent success rate. His goal kicking, in particular, suffered at Loftus as he failed to convert four successive attempts at goal. It won’t easily happen again.

Joe Pietersen was introduced to provide a secondary goal kicking option and immediately succeeded with a touchline conversion and added two more successful kicks. It proved insufficient on the night.

Lions imports Jantjies, Jaco Taute and Pat Cilliers must have felt they were in familiar territory as the Stormers failed to get going in the first half and the feeling of defeat would have been all too familiar. It will change for all three players and for the Stormers who will win more this season than they will lose.

The Bulls were deserved winners, courtesy of their pack. Jantjies’s goal kicking had an influence in the flow of the match but it is not the reason the Stormers lost. The pack was second in the primary set phases, both at the scrum and at the line out, and the backs, like the Bulls backs, were guilty of too much lateral movement.

Jantjies in the first 40 minutes got very little quality ball to work with and played most of the half on the back foot. The Bulls attacked his channel and the youngster’s defence on the night was not of the required standard. It was a poor start for Jantjies but scrum half Nick Groom was equally sluggish and was also done no favours by his beaten pack of forwards.

The more experienced Dewald Duvenhage, whose line kicking game is stronger than Groom’s should have been introduced earlier, although it was up front where the match outcome was determined.

Victor Matfield’s influence in disrupting the Stormers ball was obvious. Matfield’s presence, even though it is now confined to a coaching and technical capacity, is massive and a lot of teams are going to curse the fact that Matfield is back with the Bulls, even if it isn’t in a playing guise. There is no better exponent of the line out in the world and the Bulls master identified that Deon Fourie, for all his skill at the break down, can implode at line out.

Fourie struggled with his throwing in against the Bulls and it affected his match contribution.

The Bulls pack was good and Pierre Spies, along with flyhalf Morne Steyn, prospered. Spies won the battle of the No 8s against Bok incumbent Duane Vermeulen, with the latter a victim of his tight five’s failure to dominate the hosts. Steyn’s tactical kicking was special, as was his flawless goal kicking and he also took the honours against fellow Bok Jantjies, who was spared nothing on social forums and in the Cape media.

The Bulls backs lack the x-factor on attack and SA under 21 centre Jan Serfontein must be played sooner rather than later. He will give the attack that individual brilliance that unlocks defences. Collectively, against a defence as good as the Stormers, the Bulls never threatened or looked likely to score a try, despite an overwhelming first half possession advantage.

The Sharks tight forwards – and desperate defence – were the pillars of the Sharks victory in Bloemfontein. Cheetahs flyhalf Johan Goosen missed his first three kicks at goal but the Bok flyhalf, playing his first competitive match since August last year, also got significantly better as the game developed and centre Johan Sadie showed glimpses of the form that made him such an exciting prospect with the Stormers.

Pat Lambie, like Steyn at Loftus, excelled at flyhalf and was the beneficiary of his tight forwards’ dominant effort.

Tournament newcomers the Kings were huge defensively. They were brave and passionate and they fed off the emotion of their historic home debut. Luke Watson, in the first 30 minutes, led from the front before injury ended his night, his replacement Jacques Engelbrecht made a big impact, lock Steven Sykes was colossal, hooker Bandisi Maku was industrious and the midfield of Andries Strauss and Ronnie Cooke were composed. The night’s headlines went to 18 year-old winger Sergeal Petersen who scored two tries on debut.

The season will get significantly tougher for a Kings squad lacking the necessary squad depth, but already they have made a statement of what is possible if there is greater investment in the region.

The New Zealand teams were all-round the most impressive although they won’t always be able to play with a similar fluidity when confronted by the tougher and more physical South African forwards, especially when playing the Sharks, Stormers and Bulls in South Africa.

The Tahs were disappointing in losing to the Reds and the Brumbies clearly are the best coached team in Australia and the best performing after two rounds.