JOHANNESBURG (AFP) – The fairytale rise of South African scrum-half Herschel Jantjies continues today at Ellis Park in Johannesburg when he makes his Test debut against Australia.
It is the first of six games that also involve Argentina and New Zealand in a Rugby Championship cut to a single round because of the Rugby World Cup in Japan from September 20.
Jantjies, 23, began this year as understudy to veteran Jano Vermaak at Super Rugby outfit the Western Stormers in Cape Town.
But when Vermaak was injured, Jantjies grabbed his opportunity and became the most impressive newcomer this year among the four South African Super Rugby outfits.
His form attracted the attention of Springboks coach Rassie Erasmus and he now gets a chance to become one of three World Cup scrum-halves.
“When Herschel came up against some of the best scrum-halves in Super Rugby this season, he stood his ground,” noted former South Africa loose forward Erasmus.
“He has been consistently good this year and slotted in really well when he joined our training camp.
“Having a number of his Stormers teammates around him has also helped and now he gets an opportunity to show us what he can do at Test level.”
Springboks backline coach and former sevens star Mzwandile Stick has hailed Jantjies for making a huge impact in his first Super Rugby season.
“Life is all about opportunities. The boy was given a chance by the Stormers and he grabbed it with both hands.
“Herschel is very clinical in terms of basic skills. He has got a good pass and when the chance arises, he will snipe and score brilliant tries.
“He is not a big guy, but he makes big tackles. That shows he is in a good mental space,” said Stick.
Scrum-half has been a problem position for some time with a lack of depth beneath first choice Faf de Klerk from English Premiership club Sale Sharks.
A couple of Northern Bulls, Embrose Papier and Ivan van Zyl, started this year as the likeliest understudies to De Klerk.
But neither had an outstanding Super Rugby campaign and Jantjies and Northampton Saints’ Cobus Reinach have risen above them in the pecking order.
Reinach is on the bench for the Wallabies Test while De Klerk is rested ahead of a clash with world champions New Zealand in Wellington next weekend.
Full-back Willie le Roux, fly-half Handre Pollard and hooker Malcolm Marx are other probable World Cup first choices sitting out this Test and skipper and flanker Siya Kolisi is injured.
South Africa have changed 13 of the side beaten in Wales last November in their previous Test with centre Jesse Kriel and flanker Pieter-Steph du Toit the sole survivors.
Toulouse flanker Rynhardt Elstadt is the other newcomer in the starting XV and uncapped Bulls prop Lizo Gqoboka is among the replacements.
Australia have chosen one new cap, number eight Isi Naisarani, as they seek to improve a disastrous record of 16 losses from 17 Tests in Highveld cities Johannesburg and Pretoria.