Cape Town – On his 55th birthday on July 8, Sammy Jantjies received a phone call with news he never thought he would hear.
His son, 23-year-old Herschel Jantjies, would be making his Springbok debut in starting the July 20 Rugby Championship Test against Australia’s Wallabies at Ellis Park.
Elated and barely able to contain himself, Sammy was then told by Herschel that he had to keep the news a secret until the squad was announced on the Thursday before the game.
Not even Adeline Jantjies – Sammy’s wife and Herschel’s mother – could know.
Herschel always believed he would be a Springbok growing up, and while Sammy encouraged that dream, he never really thought it was possible.
“It’s happened too fast,” he told Sport24 in the front garden of his Kylemore home just outside Stellenbosch, where he has lived “forever” and where Herschel still lives with the family today.
There was a discussion about whether or not the Jantjies’ had the money to travel to Ellis Park, but in the end it was the easiest decision they ever made.
“When we walked in (to the stadium) there was an old man who especially came to watch ‘the Western Province No 9’,” Sammy recalls of game day.
“She (Adeline) told him: ‘that’s my son’ and he wanted to let everyone know that he was sitting next to Herschel’s parents. He even showed me the goosebumps he had.”
What happened next was a Springbok debut that few, if any, have ever matched before.
In 65 minutes, Jantjies effectively played himself into the 2019 Rugby World Cup squad with a man-of-the-match performance that included two tries that sent a packed Ellis Park delirious.
“I screamed, I shouted, I cried … everybody was in tears,” Sammy recalls of the euphoria in the stadium that day.
The family watched the All Blacks match from home the next weekend, and once again Jantjies was the hero as this time he came off the bench to score a try in the final play of the game and secure a 16-16 draw for the Boks.
When the try was awarded, the Jantjies household nearly exploded.
“People from the street and all over came running in to congratulate us. We cried, we cheered. I had to check if the roof was still on the house,” said Sammy.
Sammy Jantjies is a soft-spoken man.
He travels 100km every day to get to and from work, where he has been a safety officer for Imperial Logistics for the last 12 years. He has made sacrifices throughout Herschel’s life.
“Wherever he had to play, we took him there. I remember in 2009 he played for Boland Under-13 and we travelled up to Sasolburg (13 hour drive) for him,” Sammy recalls.
“We travelled all over. If he had to go for practices and trials, I would just inform the office that I wasn’t going to be there and got into my car and took him there.
“We drove to Oudtshoorn, Bredasdorp, Port Elizabeth … we drove.”
Then, in the week, Sammy had to join in with Herschel and the other kids from the community as they took over his back yard.
“Every single night after work we had to come and play cricket, rugby, soccer … whatever it was. This is where it all started,” he says, looking over a small patch of grass on his property.
By the time he was playing regularly in primary school, rugby was everything to Herschel and he was starting to get noticed.
It resulted in Boland Under-12 and Under-13 selection, and by the time he had been accommodated at Paul Roos for high school, there was nothing else he wanted to do.
“He was very quiet, but he was naughty sometimes,” Sammy laughs.
“I remember when he was 15 and a game was scheduled against Boland Landbou.
“That Saturday morning he was a bit naughty, so I told him he couldn’t go play rugby. Tears started to roll down his cheeks, his mother was crying. Then he fixed the wrongdoing, so we went.
“He played well that day.”
Two years of first team rugby at Paul Roos followed, as well as two years of Craven Week for Western Province, and by the end of school he was fully embedded in the Western Province structures.
Even then, though, there were few who thought he could go all the way to the top and much of that had to do with his size and perceived lack of muscle.
“There was never a moment that I had any fear in terms of his size on the field because he was like dynamite from the day of birth,” Sammy says.
The rest, Sammy reckons, is history and the Jantjies family will now need to fasten their seatbelts for the ride that lies ahead.
In less than a year, Herschel Jantjies has gone from a relatively unknown Western Province scrumhalf to a Springbok hero and a shoo-in for the World Cup in Japan.
It is a rise that is enough to make any parent worried, but Sammy believes his son has his head screwed on.
“He is very mature. He can handle it,” he says.
“He has his feet on the ground. He doesn’t like fame, he just wants to do well and excel.
“He has bought a property in Kuils River and we need to talk about what happens when he gets back, but this will always be his home.”