Jean still central to Bok cause

JON CARDINELLI believes that Jean de Villiers will offer the Springboks more at No 12 in the play-offs and that Frans Steyn is best utilised at fullback.

Steyn has enjoyed a good World Cup to date. He was one of the standouts in a generally disappointing team performance against Wales, and shone in the subsequent matches against weaker opposition. He was moved to No 12 when De Villiers was unavailable and, predictably, was too much to handle for the weaker defences of Fiji and Namibia.

De Villiers has since recovered from a rib injury but will not displace Steyn in the starting side for Friday’s game against Samoa. Coach Peter de Villiers believes that Steyn offers more from a physical perspective following his aggressive performances against Fiji and Namibia, and is now likely to retain Steyn as his preferred No 12 until the end of the Boks’ World Cup campaign.

Steyn ran with what looked to be the starting team at Owen Delany Park in Taupo on Monday. De Villiers replaced Steyn towards the end of the session which suggests that the Stormers man will be deployed from the bench at the North Harbour Stadium.

It’s disconcerting that the Bok selectors would bench De Villiers, their chief defensive organiser among the backs, just because Steyn produced the goods against weak opposition. Against teams like the Wallabies and the All Blacks in the play-offs, they will need more than brute physicality to penetrate defences or stall attacking movements.

Jaque Fourie summed it up best after the Fiji match when he described De Villiers as a clever player. He didn’t go as far to say that De Villiers was a superior option at No 12, but he intimated that De Villiers’ contribution goes beyond aggression and power, and that his decision making is invaluable to the Boks’ success.

And to say that Steyn shouldn’t play No 12 is not a criticism of the player. He has done the job before at the 2007 World Cup, and he’s shown that he can still do the job against teams like Fiji and Namibia. But is it worth persisting with him at inside centre because of those two performances? Is it worth discarding De Villiers as a starting option?

Is it also worth moving Steyn away from the position of fullback? Earlier in the year, the Bok coach said that he wanted to get Steyn back in South Africa because fullback was a position where he believed South Africa were thin. Steyn’s formidable kicking game, he believed, would also prove key to the success of a Bok game plan that relies on territorial dominance and defensive pressure.

Pat Lambie has acquitted himself well in the position, and ran with the starting side again on Monday. While he can offer the Boks more from a attacking and counter-attacking perspective, he doesn’t have the big boot that’s capable of changing the momentum of the game. Steyn showcased this strength when the Boks played Wales in the first pool match.

Meanwhile, Morne Steyn looks set to continue at flyhalf. Butch James ran at training on Monday but took a break when the backs went through their kicking drills. While it didn’t seem to hamper his ability to run and take contact, that niggling hip injury prevented James from kicking a ball.

The Boks also look likely to use five forwards on their bench. Jean de Villiers and Francois Hougaard alternated with Frans Steyn and Fourie du Preez respectively during Monday’s practice. This would suggest that if James is not fit enough to feature in the match 22, Frans Steyn could provide flyhalf cover for his namesake.

James is the kind of flyhalf the Boks need for the coming clash, and indeed in the big play-off matches. His defensive presence would have been invaluable in the tighter matches, as would his attacking play.

No doubt his injury problems would have made the decision easier for Peter de Villiers and company, but if he manages to recover, he should be considered as the Boks’ preferred flyhalf. Alongside midfielders Jean de Villiers and Fourie, James will provide the Boks with the defensive stability they need to mount a serious challenge against teams like the Wallabies and All Blacks.

Probable Springboks to play Samoa – 15 Pat Lambie, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Jaque Fourie, 12 Frans Steyn, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Morne Steyn, 9 Fourie du Preez, 8 Pierre Spies, 7 Schalk Burger, 6 Heinrich Brussow, 5 Victor Matfield (c), 4 Danie Rossouw, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Beast Mtawarira.
Subs: 16 John Smit, 17 Gurthro Steenkamp, 18 CJ van der Linde, 19 Willem Alberts, 20 Francois Louw, 21 Francois Hougaard, 22 Jean de Villiers.