Cape Town – It was one of the most spectacular Springbok debuts you are ever likely to see, and when Herschel Jantjies announced himself on the international stage against the Wallabies in Johannesburg last weekend, he had a group of vocal and emotional supporters locked away in a Durban hotel.
They came in the form of his Western Province team-mates, who watched the Test together just after they had gone down to the Sharks at King’s Park in a Currie Cup clash.
WP were poor on the day, and captain Chris van Zyl acknowledged that the mood in the camp after their 32-27 loss to their coastal rivals was low.
The match had started at 14:00, and after a quick shower and a chat, the squad returned to their hotel to watch the Boks take on the Wallabies.
What followed was an experience none of them will forget as they watched the 23-year-old Jantjies boss proceedings for over an hour as he scored two tries on his way to a man-of-the-match performance and a commanding 35-17 win.
“We got back from the hotel in a sulky mood but decided we were going to watch the game as a team,” Van Zyl revealed at Newlands on Thursday ahead of Saturday’s clash against the Golden Lions in Cape Town.
“Although we weren’t in our best mental space because of the poor performance, the joy in that room when he (Jantjies) was singing the anthem and then when he scored his first and second try was just phenomenal.
“The guys were going mental. It was flippen special, even under the circumstances, to see how much the guys care for each other and what it means to us. He is a great man.”
Coach John Dobson is as proud of a player he has seen come through the youth structures at Western Province.
“You’ve all seen that clip of Dillyn Leyds, who didn’t get onto the field (against Australia), but the joy on his face just speaks volumes,” he said of Jantjies’ performance and what it meant to the WP boys.
It would be easy for Dobson to take at least some of the credit for Jantjies’ rise given how closely he has worked with him and for how long, but the new Stormers coach admits that he did not expect the Paul Roos product to have achieved what he has this early on in his career.
Jantjies was the form South African scrumhalf in Super Rugby this season, but he would almost certainly not have been given as many opportunities had Jano Vermaak not been injured.
“I could say it was part of the plan, but it’s been quite surprising,” Dobson acknowledged.
“I remember one year we took him to Potch in the SuperSport Challenge and I was really scared to put him on. To be fair, he was 19 or 18 years old. He did quite well.
“Then last year, when Jano (Vermaak) pulled out, we put him on in the (2018) Currie Cup final and it wasn’t his best game. I thought a Currie Cup final was pushing him a little bit far and fast, to be honest.
“That Currie Cup final was a tough game for us and nobody played particularly well, but nine months later here he is.
“Coaches can’t really claim credit for that … if Jano had been fit he probably wouldn’t have gotten the opportunity.”
That 17-12 loss to the Sharks at Newlands feels like forever ago now, though, and Jantjies has quickly become a player who will be key to the Stormers’ plans next year as well as South Africa’s charge at the 2019 World Cup in Japan.
“He’s going to be a talisman of this team next year,” Dobson said.
“He’s always been a promising player, but I didn’t expect him to be man-of-the-match in a Rugby Championship game this year … it’s fantastic.
“To be fair to Rassie, rassie told us months ago that he was going to the World Cup.”
Jantjies will start on the bench behind Faf de Klerk for Saturday’s clash against the All Blacks in Wellington, while WP’s fixture against the Lions at Newlands kicks off at 17:15.
15 Dillyn Leyds, 14 Seabelo Senatla, 13 Ruhan Nel, 12 Dan Kriel, 11 SP Marais, 10 Josh Stander, 9 Paul de Wet, 8 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 7 JD Schickerling, 6 Ernst van Rhyn, 5 Chris van Zyl (captain), 4 Salmaan Moerat, 3 Carlu Sadie, 2 Scarra Ntubeni, 1 Corne Fourie.
Substitutes: 16 Chad Solomon, 17 Kwenzo Blose, 18 Wilco Louw, 19 David Meihuizen, 20 Jaco Coetzee, 21 Godlen Masimla, 22 Edwill van der Merwe, 23 Sergeal Petersen
15 Tyrone Green, 14 Madosh Tambwe, 13 Wandisile Simelane, 12 Jan-Louis la Grange, 11 Stean Pienaar, 10 Shaun Reynolds, 9 Ross Cronje (captain), 8 Hacjivah Dayimani, 7 Vincent Tshituka, 6 Marnus Schoeman, 5 Marvin Orie, 4 Ruben Schoeman, 3 Johannes Jonker, 2 Pieter Jansen, 1 Sti Sithole
Substitutes: 16 PJ Botha, 17 Leo Kruger, 18 Jacobie Adriaanse, 19 Wilhelm van der Sluys, 20 James Venter, 21 Len Massyn, 22 Dillon Smit, 23 Manuel Rass