Morne Steyn says Wellington is the toughest place for goal kickers to be successful but his accuracy at the venue should be encouraging.
Steyn is widely regarded as the best goal kicker in world rugby, and leads the tournament in points scored through goal kicks. His continued success in this regard will be crucial to the Springboks’ cause, particularly since they have consistently struggled to score tries against elite opposition. They will again rely on a kick-chase method in Wellington on Sunday, and seek to force the opposition to infringe, whereupon they will hope Steyn builds a lead with his boot.
However, the Springbok flyhalf says the Cake Tin is an inhospitable place to excel at the science. ‘Wellington is the hardest place I’ve ever played in terms of goal kicking. There is this strange wind that swirls and makes it very difficult to be accurate,’ he said. ‘Hopefully the conditions settle a bit before Sunday [the wind has been strong in the last two days and the forecast is for it continue until Saturday].’
Steyn seems to have negotiated the elements well to date. He kicked three from three against Wales in testing conditions, and six from seven against Fiji in a similarly challenging environment.
The Wallabies have only played once in Wellington during the pool phases. Interestingly between Quade Cooper and Berrick Barnes they missed five of 11 conversion attempts. James O’Connor is likely to be entrusted with the goal kicking duty this weekend though. The youngster has kicked 50% of his penalty attempts and 86% of his conversion shots.
Steyn’s overall record is less impressive, having succeeded with 63% of his penalty attempts. He does however, have an 83% accuracy rate in banking conversions, which has upped his numbers and put him well ahead of other goal kickers.
There has been constant criticism of the ball, with the likes of England’s Jonny Wilkinson being its most outspoken critic. Wilkinson again struggled in Auckland against Scotland on Saturday, leaving his penalty success rate at a diabolical 36%, while his conversion stats are no better at 67%. Toby Flood replaced him late in the match and kicked a touchline conversion to suggest Wilkinson is a workman who is wrong in blaming his tools.
‘It’s easy to blame other things if you are not kicking well,’ Steyn said. ‘I have no problem with the ball; we’ve been playing with it for some time.’
The Springboks have lamented Frans Steyn’s absence through injury, particularly since it robs them of the unrivalled option of attempting 55m plus goals. Morne Steyn, however, said his range was ‘pretty similar’ but joked that he didn’t quite have the gun-boot of his namesake. ‘He kicked some from behind his own 10m line. I can’t do that. But I’m happy to have a go from a little closer than that if the opportunity arises.’
By Ryan Vrede, in Wellington.
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