He may have caught everyone’s eye with a brace of magnificent tries during the first week of his Springbok career, but for Herschel Jantjies, rugby is about a lot more than crossing the try line.
“As I told Elton [Jantjies] the other day, I enjoy passing cleanly, sharply and accurately far more than scoring tries or slipping through a gap,” said the Boks’ newest player.
“I plan to have the same pass as Aaron Smith and those guys. I strive for consistency in my passing. Accurate passing gives me great satisfaction.
“But I do have to admit that scoring tries is fun. It brings adrenaline and excitement,” he added.
The 23-year-old, who matriculated from Paul Roos Gymnasium in Stellenbosch, said things had happened very quickly for him over the past few years. The four tries he scored in his first five tests still astonished him.
His test debut in July in a Rugby Championship match against the Wallabies saw him win the hearts of many Springbok supporters by scoring two exceptional tries.
A week later, he added the all-important try in the dying seconds of the match against the All Blacks in Wellington.
With these performances, Jantjies secured his place in the Springbok World Cup squad alongside Faf de Klerk and Cobus Reinach, ahead of other contenders such as Embrose Papier, Louis Schreuder, Ross Cronjé and Ivan van Zyl.
I’ve been asked if it was difficult for me to adapt so many times this year, because things have happened so fast. I still don’t know how to answer that question
“But things did happen fast. One moment I was still sitting on the bench for Western Province, and the next I was playing in the Currie Cup final [last year].
“I never thought I’d be included in the Stormers’ Super Rugby starting side this year. Then it happened. And here I am at the World Cup. I think any guy who uses his chances can make it and reach his goals. I’m an example of that.”
As a junior, Jantjies looked up to many local players, including Breyton Paulse, Fourie du Preez and Francois Hougaard.
“Outside South Africa, I really admired Mike Phillips. It was very special for me when I made my debut on the bench for the Welsh club team Scarlets and Mike was in the starting side.”
Jantjies said he really wanted to play like Hougaard when the latter was a Springbok.
Various people influenced his career, among them two former Springboks: the late Chester Williams and former scrum half Bolla Conradie.
“Coach Chester gave me a lifeline at the University of the Western Cape. I’m very thankful for that. May he rest in peace. It was great to be in the presence of legends like him and Bolla. They also taught me to enjoy my rugby.”
In the Bok camp, Elton is one of the seniors meant to help ease Herschel into test rugby. They are roommates for the duration of the World Cup and have developed a close friendship.
“Elton and I started on a good note when he was my fly half pairing in my debut test. We talk about the game a lot and our friendship has grown.
“I’ve enjoyed the World Cup so far. It’s a special experience. I came here without any personal expectations. Instead, my attention has been on the team.”