On Tuesday, the Lions confirmed that franchise captain and their go-to flyhalf for the past decade was off to France as a medical joker for the latter stages of the TOP14 season.
In a statement confirming the move, the Lions said that the move was done in conjunction with SA Rugby in order to better prepare Jantjies for the British and Irish Lions tour later this year. A savvy move indeed from the top dogs at SA Rugby as Pau are staring down the barrel of potential relegation from the Top14.
Jantjies confirmed as much in an interview with the Independent Online
‘It was a collective decision,’ Jantjies said. ‘In terms of myself, Rassie Erasmus, [Lions CEO] Rudolf Straueli and Cash van Rooyen.
‘It was made just looking at me as an individual and how we can get myself into the best possible condition and the best I can be before the Lions tour. I’ve got this opportunity to go and play in the Top 14 – it is a different competition, a different experience and there are obviously quality teams that I am going to play against.
‘It is part of our preparations for the Springboks.’
With six games to go, Pau are seven points behind 12th placed Bayonne, who they face this weekend, with a trip to Stade de Francais coming up followed by four games - two against clubs ranked in the top four and two in the bottom four. Long story short, they have a tough run of fixtures to close the season.
Adding to their situation at the bottom of the table is the fact they there are without former Wallaby flyhalf Mike Harris as well as their 23-year-old superstar pivot Antoine Hastoy with 20-year-old rookie Thibault Debas the only fit flyhalf, until Jantjies’ signing.
Jantjies has spent the better part of the last decade as the Lions starting flyhalf with the exceptions of an underwhelming year at the Stormers and multiple short stints in Japan with the Shining Arcs.
The move to France provides Jantjies with the opportunity to learn in a different environment as well as perform in the pressures of relegation rugby, tensions just as high as knockout rugby.
Jantjies was the Springboks second choice flyhalf at the Rugby World Cup in 2019 and with Handre Pollard still sidelined at Montpellier, he is currently the front runner for the starting 10 jersey for the Lions Tour.
The 30-year-old flyhalf is very much a confidence driven performer and if he is able to steer Pau to safety in the TOP14, it would do his confidence a world of good after a mixed bag of results for the Lions over the past 12 months. Jantjies hasn’t been in bad form for the Johannesburg outfit since the Rugby World Cup but the results of the side haven’t been a reflection of his form. He has also taken over the responsibilities of captaining the side and a period away from the club could further his claims for a starting jumper against the touring Lions later this year.
If Jantjies is able to guide Pau to safety and play well while doing so, Handre Pollard will be looking over his shoulder and ramping up his rehabilitation in order to fight for his jersey. The kind of competition for a test jumper that any test coach dreams of, particularly with the likes of Morne Steyn, Damian Willemse and Curwin Bosch pressing for selection too.
On his day, Jantjies can be one of the most dangerous attacking flyhalves in the game and if his confidence is high, he may well prove to be a real thorn in the British and Irish Lions side. Outside of Morne Steyn, who has been in superb form for the Bulls and is well within the conversation for a test recall at the age of 36, and Handre Pollard, Jantjies is the most experienced flyhalf at test level with 37 caps for his country.
Jantjies' move to France makes sense in so many ways as he looks to get battle-ready for the British and Irish Lions. The pressures of international rugby are incredibly difficult to recreate outside of the test arena but a relegation scrap against sides fighting for playoff positions is potentially as close as it can get outside of knockout games in the top club competitions.
While one could argue that Jantjies could get test match ready against teams in the Rainbow Cup, the competition does still have a cloud of doubt over whether it will go ahead or not. While there is also the case of how seriously some of the sides will take the competition. The South Africans will be going out full throttle to best prepare their players for the British and Irish Lions Tour while there may be few players from the PRO14 sides staking a claim for the Springbok and Lions jerseys but you can't help but wonder if the PRO14 sides may try a few things during the competition like giving youngsters a run or testing untried combinations. This would not be the case in France as Jantjies will be in an environment with Pau where every game will be viewed as a must-win. If he is to feature in the final five games of the season his opposite flyhalf is likely to be an international flyhalf in three of those clashes. Coming up against Nicolas Sanchez (Stade Francais), Finn Russell (Racing 92) and Alex Lozowski, Johan Goosen, Anthony Bouthier or even Handre Pollard (Montpellier). Adding to that, he would also face the in-form Ihaia West in Pau's away fixture against La Rochelle.
If he is unable to elevate Pau from their current position of 13th on the TOP14 log, Pau are set to face the runners up in the PROD2 in a promotion-relegation clash. Again, a game with so much riding on it. The move is somewhat of a gamble as it could all come undone but if it comes off and Jantjies stars for his new employers, the Springboks will have a confident Elton Jantjies at their disposal when they take on the best the Home Nations have to offer.