Midfield magic needed

RYAN VREDE writes the Springboks’ midfield pair of Frans Steyn and Jean de Villiers are far more creative than what they’ve shown and need to be encouraged to explore that dimension of their play.

I’ve lamented the Springboks’ pack’s impotency extensively, and, in a game of cause and effect, their struggles are at the root of the broader impotency of the backline.

Over the course of the last five Tests there have been encouraging periods where the heavies have dominated and the backline has buzzed, their early blitz against England at Ellis Park the prime example of this. However, they have lacked consistency and it has reflected in a string of unconvincing performances. Notable in that period has been the muted impact of their midfield pair.

The duo seldom see the ball when the Springboks are in their own territory, the directive being to punt and chase for fear of committing errors in their half and gifting the opposition points. This is understandable given the small margins in Test rugby among the elite sides. However, when further upfield, it is deeply frustrating to see Steyn being reduced largely to a battering ram, whose primary function is to generate go-forward at the gainline. He has had limited success in doing so and will struggle to impose himself in the manner the coaching staff hope against the organised and physical All Blacks and (to a lesser extent) Wallabies.

Steyn’s creative ability is well known and was first exhibited as a young buck in the Springboks’ midfield at the 2007 World Cup. His running lines were excellent and his distribution – short and long – was incisive and created opportunities for his outside backs. I’d like to see Steyn encouraged to rediscover this dimension of his play (in the right field positions) because he has the skills set to be more than he is being utilised as at present.

De Villiers has found adapting to the attacking demands of a Test outside centre difficult. His running lines and timing of those runs are fractionally off and in Test rugby those fractions are the difference between breaking the line and being stopped. He certainly possesses the attacking flair to be effective in the position, but I am concerned that age has depleted the turn of pace he used to have to get him through holes in the defensive line.

De Villiers, however, remains a fine player who I believe will settle into the position and be a competent option. Comparisons with Jaque Fourie are unfair and those who peddle those comparisons fail to appreciate that Fourie was among the best in the position in the game. De Villiers is unlikely to retain the captaincy or No 13 shirt if, as expected, Fourie returns to the Test fold in 2013. Until then, he must explore different dimensions – tackle offloads for example – of his attacking game within the framework of the game plan.

The Springboks’ pack are central to their success and against the weakest Wallabies pack in recent years, they must create the platform for Steyn and De Villiers to be the game breakers they have the capacity to be.

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