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How Springboks view Russell nearly 14 weeks after Lions decider

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

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Springboks out-half Elton Jantjies has admitted that Scotland talisman Finn Russell tested the South Africans in a different way from the other No10s in the recent Lions Test series. Having gone with the combination of the starting Dan Biggar and replacement Owen Farrell in the opening two matches last July, the Scottish player was thrown into the fray early in the decisive third Test after Biggar limped out of the action on eleven minutes.  

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What played out with Russell involved was a more creative Lions approach in a match that went down to the wire and was only decided in favour of the Springboks by a late penalty from Morne Steyn, the replacement who was chosen on the bench for that particular game ahead of Jantjies.

The 31-year-old South African has enjoyed better fortunes since then, starting against Argentina, landing the winning points against the All Blacks and coming to play his part in last weekend’s win over Wales. Now he gets the chance to start the Autumn Nations Series game against Scotland, with Russell his likely head-to-head opponent.  

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Springboks coach Jacques Nienaber previews their Scotland match
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Springboks coach Jacques Nienaber previews their Scotland match

“We have all seen what he was capable of in that last Test for the Lions,” said Jantjies when asked about the potential threat posed by Russell. “I really think he made a big difference and he challenged our group in a different way. 

“We have got a little bit of experience about that and for us it is just about focusing on our systems, working as a group and making sure we stop whatever he is throwing at us. It is not the same (Scotland) team we played in 2018, similar management but they give us different challenges with younger players.”

Jantjies has been chosen as the starting Springboks No10 against the Scots after it was decided to rotate Handre Pollard to the bench with a view to the following weekend’s game against England at Twickenham. The decision gives Jantjies a huge opportunity to show what he is capable of, but he hasn’t looked at his promotion from an individual point of view.  

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“It sounds like a cliche but I have always said it, it is not about me as an individual, it’s just about the team. But yes, the responsibility is now on me to lead the boys in terms of certain aspects of our game and make sure we execute the things we have been working on as a group, making sure we are aligned in that, so that is my responsibility. It is just about us focusing on Scotland and not focusing on the past because it is a different challenge.  

“The way we play, it works for us as a group. It covers everything in detail. I can’t elaborate on it but there is a big emphasis on us looking for opportunities as well and when the opportunity is there, maybe one out of four, we should take them and we should back ourselves to use it because that is part of us as a group. Hopefully, on Saturday we will be aware of those opportunities and take them.”

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