RYAN VREDE says there is no reason to believe that Heyneke Meyer will look beyond Morne Steyn as his flyhalf for the Springboks.
At his unveiling as Springboks coach in January, Heyneke Meyer spoke about giving every player a fair opportunity to state his case for selection. There would be no preconceived ideas about players, he said. Every player would have an equal opportunity of advancing their cause.
Meyer’s integrity is sound and there is no reason to doubt the authenticity of that offering. However, through conversations with him it is apparent that he has an acute sense of the weight of expectation. This sense will heighten as his first on-field assignment, a three-Test series against England in June, draws closer.
Meyer has been portrayed as the saviour of the Springboks. But he is like every coach that has preceded him, who, in the high-pressure results-driven environment, will back players he trusts and knows and who fit into his game plan.
Steyn is at the head of that queue and with his performance against the Sharks in Pretoria on Friday he exhibited why, barring injury or stupendous form from one of the other South African flyhalves, he will be the incumbent No 10 for the England series.
With just over a week to prepare his players for their first Test Meyer will not gamble by experimenting with an untested game plan or an unfamiliar pivot. The Bulls showed just how difficult it is to counter their pattern if they are accurate in execution. Central to its success is the timing, weight and placement of up-and-unders and the accuracy of tactical punts into space and touch.
At present there is no player to match Steyn in these disciplines, while he is one of the pre-eminent goal kickers on the planet. Youngsters Pat Lambie and Elton Jantjies are undoubtedly gifted, but their franchise coaches have very different rugby philosophies to Meyer and this is manifested in the manner they are asked to play.
Given more time under Meyer’s mentorship both could be engineered into the type of flyhalf he prefers. Indeed they have the potential to offer him more than Steyn can because of their natural feel for the game and broader attacking arsenal.
However, Steyn’s presence and potency is crucial but not imperative for the Springboks. For the Bulls he is the fulcrum and any prolonged absence would almost certainly render them significantly less threatening opponents. Both Louis Fouche and Lionel Cronje, the Bulls’ deputy pivots, are far more adept at running the ball than they are at kicking it.
Furthermore, any injury to Steyn would have been softened if they had a scrumhalf with a high-quality kicking game. But Francois Hougaard’s extensive repertoire does not include kicking of the standard required in the context of this argument.
Don’t be surprised if Steyn plays all of the Bulls’ matches this season. Such is his importance to them.