Goosen injury sharpens flyhalf focus

JON CARDINELLI writes Johan Goosen’s campaign-ending injury will come as a blow to a Springbok squad that suddenly isn’t so spoiled for No 10 options.

As reported by keo.co.za on Sunday, Goosen’s shoulder injury will rule him out of rugby for four months. It’s not a train smash for the Boks as far as the starting line-up is concerned, but it will mean Heyneke Meyer’s plan to blood Goosen in June and then start him in November is now seriously compromised.

Goosen has shown himself to be more than a freak with a cannon of a goal-kicking boot. His tactical kicking has been a big feature of a Cheetahs game that has been more balanced in 2012. His decision-making, be it to kick, attack the line or feed the men on his outside, has been spot on. His defence has also improved since last year’s Currie Cup.

The Cheetahs uncovered a strong flyhalf option in Sias Ebersohn last year, but in 2012 Goosen has proved himself to be a class apart. Indeed the Cheetahs haven’t been as effective when Goosen hasn’t started. This was evident in the round eight loss to the Chiefs, and again when Goosen left the field in last Saturday’s clash with the Highlanders.

In 2011, Ebersohn was one of the better flyhalves in South Africa. But ever since Goosen replaced him in the No 10 position at the Cheetahs, his confidence and overall performance has dipped.

He would have done himself no favours with that fragile showing against the Highlanders. The Cheetahs as a collective were guilty of dropping their intensity in the second half, but Ebersohn seemed to crumble under the pressure.

He slotted a difficult kick from the sideline as soon as he replaced Goosen, but then missed an absolute sitter in the dying minutes. It was a miss that cost the Cheetahs the game.

With Goosen unavailable until September and Ebersohn struggling for form and confidence, South Africa looks to be two flyhalf options lighter.

It’s a shame that Goosen won’t get the opportunity to play against England. As Meyer has intimated, Goosen is the complete package. At 19 he’s good enough to form part of the Boks’ match 22 and in a year’s time he may be good enough to command that all-important starting spot.

Meyer will lean on experienced combinations and trust in existing structures for the series against England. It is for this reason that Morné Steyn will be backed to start at No 10.

While Steyn hasn’t been his accurate self in front of goal, he’s thrived behind an impressive Bulls pack. What would have impressed Meyer is Steyn’s tactical kicking accuracy. This aspect of his game has certainly not suffered, and at the highest level it’s been shown that a strong kicking 10 is essential to success.

Steyn will start against England, but Goosen’s injury will present an opportunity for another young 10 to play Steyn’s understudy. Having said that, not many possess Steyn’s tactical boot or will fit into that Bok game plan.

Stormers flyhalf Peter Grant has started to find form after a quiet start to the season. His defence has always been a strength, and he has worked hard to become one of the best goal-kickers in Super Rugby (he hasn’t missed a goal attempt in 2012). The confidence is clearly flowing, as Grant has started to attack the gainline in recent matches, and it’s resulted in an improved overall showing by the Stormers’ attack.

What Grant still lacks is a strong tactical kicking game. The Stormers look to offset this shortcoming by handing much of the tactical kicking responsibilities to scrumhalf Dewaldt Duvenage and fullback Joe Pietersen. But at the highest level, you cannot circumvent this kind of weakness.

Elton Jantjies has done some good and bad things over the course of the season. It hasn’t helped that the Lions have struggled as a unit or that his forward pack has grown further depleted as the season has progressed, but as seen in the game against the Brumbies, he doesn’t always make the best tactical decisions.

Perhaps in the right environment he will flourish, and it’s clear he has all the skills to be a success. The Lions don’t have a hope of making the Super Rugby play-offs, but Jantjies must use the remaining games to show Meyer why he would add value in the series against England.

Pat Lambie has the ability to kick crucial goals and like Jantjies has the skill set to be a flyhalf force at Test level. While not as experienced as Steyn or the recently retired Butch James, he has played for the Boks in that position, and that may count in his favour when Meyer weighs up the flyhalf options before the first Test.

Lambie has always been the favourite to wear the No 15 jersey against England in June, as Meyer considers him a stronger fullback than a flyhalf. But with Goosen no longer in the mix, Meyer will have to think about who to bring in as a back-up to Steyn.

It could be that Lambie covers this position, or that Jantjies is named the official understudy. There is much to play for in the coming weeks, especially for Jantjies who has it all to do on a difficult tour Down Under.

Follow JC on Twitter
Follow SA Rugby magazine on Twitter