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THE BIG INTERVIEW: Jantjies' Bok lullaby

David Isaacson | 2012-09-28 00:12:24.0
Lions flyhalf Elton Jantjies is resolute to stay on the path to being crowned king of the South African flyhalves, so much so that he is undergoing a boxing-styled fitness regimen Picture: CARL FOURIE/GALLO IMAGES

Elton Jantjies truly does eat, drink and sleep rugby. The mercurial flyhalf is so determined to play for South Africa that he wears his Springbok jersey to bed every night.

It's the strip he wore playing for Peter de Villiers's Boks against the Barbarians at the end of 2010, but most significantly it has the No10 on the back.

"I just get the feeling that if I sleep with my Springbok kit on I'm going to achieve my goal," Jantjies said this week after being selected on the bench for tomorrow's showdown against the Wallabies at Loftus, where he will wear No20.

"That is my goal - to be the No1 flyhalf in South Africa. I'll get there," he said.

Just 22, Jantjies believes he is still learning his craft and is trying to become the complete package.

"I'm not satisfied with my standards. I always want to go higher. I always want to improve my attack, my defence, my kicking game."

Working hard is nothing new to Jantjies. At Florida High School, he would stay on after training to practise his goal-kicking.

"I'd come back to the school for a meeting and Elton would still be there by himself, picking up the balls himself and kicking over and over," recalls Jantjies' former coach, Skip Viljoen.

He was blown away when he first saw Jantjies, playing for a North West school against Florida at Under-14.

"He caught my eye immediately. We won the match easily, and we had the Craven Week U-13 flyhalf, but Elton was the outstanding player."

Viljoen approached Jantjies' father, Thomas, a sergeant major in the army, and persuaded him to send the prospect to Florida.

"He was brilliant at both rugby and cricket. But the Lions [rugby] contracted him while he was still at school," says Viljoen.

"At cricket, he was an allrounder. He batted at No3 and was a clever medium pacer. Very clever. He was like Jacques Kallis. He's such a calm person. He never gets rattled. He was the captain of both teams."

Viljoen remembers a rugby match against rivals Monument when his inside centre, a Craven Week player, fell ill and was unable to play.

"I was panicking. Elton just said: 'Don't worry, we'll win.' Elton controlled the match. We still won."

In a match for a Golden Lions school side against the Falcons, Jantjies came off the bench at half time to replace Jaco Taute at flyhalf.

The Falcons were leading 12-3 at that stage.

"The Lions won 48-12. That was the impact of Elton - he played wide, he played inside," recalls Viljoen.

"You don't coach Elton. You can do your set pieces, but Elton reads the game five minutes before it happens."

In the classroom, however, Jantjies wasn't always the model pupil, especially in tourism class, which he bunked on occasion.

"That was probably when I was tired after a Saturday game," the player says with a laugh, adding his teacher did not believe there was a future in sport.

"I had rugby and cricket but I knew I'd like to make one of them a professional sport because I was good at cricket. I wouldn't say great."

I interrupt Jantjies to tell him that he was purportedly a whole lot better than "good" at cricket, and he replies with a bashful smile without endorsing the praise.

His breakthrough in rugby came when he was selected for the Golden Lions U-16 team, having missed out on selection for Craven Week at junior school in Pretoria.

The inspiration for his running style came from studying several flyhalves, notably Carlos Spencer, who later mentored him at the Lions, Stephen Larkham, Jonny Wilkinson and Henry Honiball.

"I love being an attacking flyhalf, I love playing my guys into space. But obviously as a flyhalf you have different responsibilities. You have to do your kicking and you have to get your guys into the right position on the field."

In a bid to become an even better player, Jantjies goes for personal training with Sebastiaan Rothmann, the former world cruiserweight boxing title contender, who also works with Pierre Spies and Paralympic star Oscar Pistorius.

"Sometimes I'm feeling negative during the day, but once I'm around Sebastiaan and chatting to him I feel so much better as a person."

Jantjies has fallen in love with the boxing-style training and is contemplating having an amateur bout at some point in the future.

"I'm keen, it just depends on the timing and getting the [boxing] technique and getting better at it.

"I really enjoy the physicality of boxing. It is on my mind having a charity fight. But I love the training - it's very hard."

Rothmann, who reckons Jantjies has the goods to be a decent boxer, is also impressed.

"He was on holiday and on New Year's Day he SMS-ed me for a training programme," says Rothman.

Jantjies says: "I don't have a holiday. I just train and train and train. At most I take a day off, but then I feel bad.

"Some people say I'm over-training, but I don't think so. I believe the harder you work the more likely you are to achieve your goals."

By the time Jantjies does get to pull on a Bok No10 jersey for a test match, he will surely be ready.

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