CAPE TOWN (Reuters) - Just a year ago South Africa looked thin on talent at scrumhalf, a position of genuine concern heading towards the Rugby World Cup, but the emergence of Herschel Jantjies has sparked a selection poser for coach Rassie Erasmus.
Jantjies stole the show on debut in the 35-17 Rugby Championship win over Australia at Ellis Park on Saturday, his two tries were coupled with some brave defence for a player who stands at only 1.64-metres tall.
It was the continuation of excellent form for the Stormers in Super Rugby that has seen him emerge from obscurity to an almost assured World Cup ticket in the matter of a few months.
“You don’t want to praise a guy too much, but you can’t do other than praise him after the way he played,” Erasmus told reporters.
“If you look at where he was in the Currie Cup last year, and to see him in test match rugby now ... his service, his box-kicks, the technical things and the grit on defence, as well as the way he attacked. It was just awesome.
“Hopefully he can just grow from here. The confidence is certainly high. The opposition will just be tougher and tougher as we get closer to the World Cup. But it’s a great start from him and he can be very proud.”
Jantjies is in Wellington this week for the Springboks’ second clash in the championship against New Zealand on Saturday, but could find himself outside of the match 23 altogether.
Faf de Klerk was the first-choice for the Boks last year, but not always available due to an arrangement between South African Rugby and his English club Sale Sharks that meant he would be released for certain games.
And the renewed form of Northampton Saints number nine Cobus Reinach, who impressed as a replacement for Jantjies on Saturday in his first test in four years, has also made him a strong contender.
Both De Klerk and Reinach were nominated for Player of the Season awards at their clubs and suddenly the scrumhalf stocks look strong for the Boks going into the World Cup.
It is a welcome position to be in for Erasmus, and another sign that South Africa, so abject at times in recent years, are working their way back into being genuine title contenders in Japan.
Reporting By Nick Said; editing by Sudipto Ganguly