Gurthro on his way to answering critics

Gurthro Steenkamp says the criticism he received at the back end of last year has provided the fuel to reignite his career.

On Saturday at Newlands the Springbok loosehead started his first Test in two years since running on against Australia in Perth in 2008, and capped off a solid performance with one of five Bok tries. With Beast Mtawarira effectively being banned, the door opened for Steenkamp to grab a stranglehold on the Bok No 1 jersey, and his performance against France went some way in doing that.

But merely eight months ago matters weren’t as promising. After a patchy Currie Cup where the Bulls’ scrum struggled – especially in the final against the Cheetahs – Steenkamp went on the Bok year-end tour. A Bok dirt-trackers’ pack filled with players who shouldn’t have played against Leicester due to injuries led to the pack not having one scrumming session together, and due to a lack of preparation they were embarrassingly mauled by the Tigers.

Steenkamp left the pitch with an injury, and his season ended on a sour note after that encounter with Leicester and Italy tighthead Martin Castrogiovanni. Steenkamp flew home with his ego bruised, but he wouldn’t let that negatively effect his 2010 season.

On the Bulls’ pre-season camp in George in December, he did a lot of thinking.

‘I received a lot of criticism at the end of last year,’ Steenkamp told keo.co.za. ‘Most of it was around the Currie Cup and end of year tour, but I thought the criticism was unjust. I took so much flak, I decided I didn’t want to have any regrets about my career.

‘I knew the Bulls wanted to win back-to-back Super 14s [which they did], and I knew everyone had to be on top of their game for that to happen. Gary Botha’s arrival also helped from a technical and mental perspective. Looking back, I just wanted to have a great 2010.

‘I’ve had a good year, but I didn’t do it for anyone else. I did it for myself.’

Steenkamp, along with the rest of the Bok pack, set the platform for a memorable 42-17 Bok win over Les Bleus. Steenkamp had his friends and family from Paarl watching in the stands, providing extra inspiration to stand up to an abrasive pack.

‘It was really physical up front. We had to work and focus at every scrum. We knew if we didn’t pitch up at scrum-time, we’d be in trouble.

‘It was really even and it was difficult going up against them. Sometimes we’d get short-arms against us, sometimes they’d go for us. It was a really fair contest.

‘We didn’t have a particular scrum strategy, we just knew they have a good set piece. We knew how good a scrum they were after what happened in Toulouse last year.’

Even with the disruption of having John Smit leaving the field at half-time with a hamstring injury and having Chiliboy Ralepelle – who is low on game-time – coming in, the Boks still impressed at the set-piece. The scrum has widely been perceived as being the Boks’ major weak link, but after negotiating the French, Steenkamp feels they have the platform to dispel that notion.

‘It wasn’t great to lose John, but fortunately we have many senior players. Everyone realised we had to stand up and maintain discipline. Chili also played well. We’re in a great position where the guys off the bench don’t just fill in but they really make an impact.

‘This performance up front will be a confidence booster. We’re under no illusions and know there’s lots of room for improvement, but with the guys here, we can become a great pack.’

By Grant Ball, at Newlands