Morne Steyn has moved to dismiss criticism of his defence and says his drive to become an international flyhalf caused his running game to regress.
Steyn has been heavily criticised for his perceived limitations with ball in hand. Though an expert tactical kicker on form, Steyn has failed to exhibit any discernible attacking threat beyond the base expectation of a Test flyhalf.
Against Wales in Wellington on Sunday he clearly attempted to vary his game, standing flat to the line more often than he has in recent seasons. His cause was undoubtedly undermined by the Springboks’ inability to retain possession through multiple phases, but Steyn acknowledges that it is an area of his game that demands attention.
‘I can improve a lot as an attacking flyhalf,’ Steyn told keo.co.za, before theorising about the root of his struggles. ‘When I arrived at the Bulls in 2003 I was more of an attacking flyhalf, but coach Heyneke Meyer explained to me that if I wanted to take the step up I needed to improve my tactical kicking game.
‘It’s the kicking that’s doing the job at the moment. The Bulls and Boks play more of a kicking than running game, so it required me to adjust accordingly. But having said that, my running game has suffered as a result. I know I have to grow that area of my game.’
Steyn was confident that he, and by extension the collective, would become more potent as their synergy and cohesion improved. He agreed that the World Cup success of 2007 featured panache as much as it did pragmatism in an attacking sense, but stressed that it has become a significantly more difficult to score tries this time around.
‘You have to consider that every team in the tournament has improved defensively, particularly in their gainline contest. That demands that teams have a good kicking strategy. That’s not to say there mustn’t be variation,’ he said.
Steyn’s defence also came into sharp focus following the narrow victory over the Dragons. Midfieder Jamie Roberts clearly targeted his channel and made ground on almost every occasion he did so. Steyn said this had not fractured his confidence.
‘It is their game plan [Roberts attacking that channel]. It wasn’t tailored specifically for us. They often send that big tank down the 10-12 channel and he often gets them momentum there. It didn’t dent my confidence [to struggle defensively against him].’
Fiji would have noted Wales’ tactic and are likely to try to replicate it, sending their key strike runners down Steyn’s lane. Coach Peter de Villiers was open about the fact that Frans Steyn’s selection at inside centre was designed to shore up that area of their defensive line, but the Bulls man is still acutely aware of the test lying ahead.
‘From their locks to their wings, they’re big boys. We’ll have to put our shoulders down and tackle, as simple as that,’ he said. ‘I think the biggest lesson the guys learnt in 2007 was to take nobody lightly [Fiji were close to upsetting the Springboks in the quarter-final]. ‘That said, it is still the Springboks against Fiji. We cannot allow them to stand in our way.’
By Ryan Vrede, in Wellington