An upswing in form at a crucial time of the season has suddenly made Springbok scrumhalf Herschel Jantjies look like a serious contender for a place among the players travelling to the World Cup later this year.
But before the quicksilver scrumhalf can think of a ticket to France, he has the vital task of helping the Stormers claim back-to-back United Rugby Championship titles when they take on Munster on Saturday (6.30pm kickoff) in the final at a sold-out Cape Town Stadium.
After missing out on a place with South Africa on the November tour to Europe last year, and having to rotate the Stormers No 9 jersey with Paul de Wet, Jantjies has found his mojo again.
The same mojo that saw him go to the 2019 World Cup as a Bok bolter. And the same one that saw him establish himself as the first-choice at the Stormers.
A dip in form changed things, and Jantjies was struggling with his game. But thanks to De Wet’s competition, and that of Jaden Hendrikse, Grant Williams, Cobus Reinach and Faf de Klerk at the Boks, it rejuvenated the nippy No 9 who is ready to compete again at the top level.
“I try to improve the whole time, it’s not like I wake up in the morning and decide that I want to have a bad season,” Jantjies said about the slump in form he went through.
“I try my best every time I go out onto the training and playing field. I try to take every opportunity that comes my way.
“Sometimes, it goes your way, and sometimes it doesn’t. I feel I’m in a good space, and I am enjoying my rugby with a great bunch of guys.
“I like the sort of competitiveness we have within the squad, and every day we try to challenge each other, to get better daily. For me, it’s enjoyable.”
Jantjies will have the difficult task of suppressing veteran Irish scrumhalf Conor Murray on Saturday, who has also struck some good form in recent months.
And if the 27-year-old Jantjies is seen as a senior player in the Stormers team, Murray could be classed in the category of master with over 100 Tests for his country and almost 200 caps for Munster.
Jantjies, though, is looking forward to the challenge Murray will provide on Saturday but chose to focus on putting his best foot forward.
He has improved his box-kicking, and it’s been a big weapon of the Stormers, while his partnership with flyhalf Manie Libbok has brought another dimension to the defending champions’ attack.
“As a rugby player, you want to improve yourself, especially those areas that are not that great. The box kicks are something coach Gareth (Wright, Stormers kicking coach) worked on very hard with me and the other scrumhalves.
“Mentally, that was also a big work-on for me. The fact that Manie and I think the same and find each other the whole time. It helps me to make decisions and play my game.
“We complement each other very well.”
About the Springbok scrumhalf competition, Jantjies says he can only play his game week in and week out, and not focus on things that are out of his control.
Although Hendrikse and Williams have made some massive strides recently, the current form of Jantjies will make it difficult to overlook him ahead of the international season.
“My focus is obviously just on our preparation this week and the game at the weekend. Whatever happens this weekend, I am sure the coaches and selectors will make the right decisions in who they feel they need,” Jantjies said.
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