Frans to provide Boks with balance

The shift of Frans Steyn to fullback and the inclusion of Morne Steyn on the bench would beef up the Springboks’ kicking game significantly.

The 1997 Boks outscored their Lions counterparts by nine tries to three, but lost due to the absence of a dependable goal-kicker. With just over a month to go until the first Test of the 2009 series, the Boks aren’t exactly spoiled for choice.

Percy Montgomery’s retirement and Butch James’s injury are two big setbacks. Montgomery became the epitome of calm under pressure during the Jake white era, his accurate goal-kicking contributing towards the Tri-Nations victory in 2004 and the World Cup triumph in 2007. James has also provided staunch support and, had he been fit, should have been marked as the chief sharpshooter for the coming series.

As it stands, Peter de Villiers has a quandary on his hands. His preferred pivot Ruan Pienaar only returned to Super Rugby last week after missing the majority of the competition with a knee injury. With a maximum of four matches to play (should the Sharks play in the final) he doesn’t have much time to find his rhythm in a match situation.

His Sharks’ team-mate could be an option for De Villiers, but Frans Steyn may only cover 10 from the bench. In any case, Steyn has long played a supporting role rather than the primary one. The long range kicks – in other words, the outside chances – are often handed to the 22-year-old, while a more experienced and reliable kicker takes on the primary task.

There aren’t many other goal-kicking options when you look at the other South African franchises. Peter Grant has played second-fiddle to Willem de Waal at the Stormers this season despite the latter player’s inconsistency. The Cheetahs’ Naas Olivier may have improved his goal-kicking but is still too weak in other areas, the Sharks’ Rory Kockott is accurate but is, at this point, fourth in the scrumhalf pecking order (behind Du Preez, Ricky Januarie and Jano Vermaak) according to reliable sources, and the Lions’ Andre Pretorius has been inconsistent at best.

Earl Rose looks to be in Bok contention, and for whatever reason De Villiers favours him, it may be for his goal-kicking. Morne Steyn has been mentioned as an option, and one has to admit, it’s not a bad call. He’s been the most consistent kicking flyhalf in the country for some time, and in a series where kicking is all important, his expertise may be required.

The Lions aren’t bringing players capable of worrying the South African defence. It’s debatable that the UK and Ireland even have them, but the best of their attacking lot have not been picked. In Stephen Jones and Ronan O’Gara they have two accomplished kickers from a goal- and tactical -kicking perspective.

While goal-kicking will be important to the outcome, the battle on the field should see a barrage of tactical punts. O’Gara and Jones are well-equipped for this kind of fight, and the Boks would do well to stock their backline with players capable of retaliation.

Morne Steyn has confirmed his value in this respect with a solid 2009 performance, and in Fourie du Preez the Boks’ have the best kicking scrumhalf in the world. You won’t see many ground-gaining punts from Jean de Villiers, Jaque Fourie (a natural selection now that Adi Jacobs looks likely to miss out), JP Pietersen or Bryan Habana, so you need a fullback with a first-class kicking game.

Montgomery is unavailable and Conrad Jantjes’s broken leg has ruled him out of rugby for the rest of the year. This is terrible news for the Boks, but it could see a move that is long overdue. Frans Steyn could finally start at fullback.

Coaches around the world have acknowledged his drop-kicking as a threat, and it satisfied to hear John Connolly calling for the drop-goal to be devalued after Steyn sunk his Wallabies with two drops in the 2007 Tri-Nations. Steyn also has a formidable line-kicking game which is best utilised when he’s not in the first- or even second receiver channel.

This would provide the Boks with more balance and give Pienaar cover in the goal-kicking department. Morne Steyn could then provide further cover from the bench.

By Jon Cardinelli