JON CARDINELLI writes that Heyneke Meyer is doing the Springboks, and Morné Steyn himself, a disservice by persisting with the out-of-form flyhalf.
One more point would have given the Boks victory in Port Elizabeth. One more would have made the journey to Mendoza a success in the strictest sense.
Had the Boks converted more drop-goal and penalty opportunities in Perth, they may have built a lead so imposing that the Aussies may have failed to come back.
These are the small margins that have meant the difference between success and failure. It may seem a simplistic view, as the Boks are guilty of inadequacies across the board, but there’s no denying that had they converted more of these shots on goal, they would now be sporting a solid six from six record instead of a mess of statistics that read won three, drawn two, and lost one.
Six from six wouldn’t confirm that all is well with the Bok game plan, but it would indicate that they still have the means to win close games. That they didn’t get the desired and very necessary results in Port Elizabeth and Mendoza confirmed that they no longer had that game-winning edge.
Morné Steyn, South Africa’s Mr Reliable of the past three seasons, has battled with his consistency and confidence. Those erratic showings in South Africa and Argentina boded badly for the all important Tests in Australasia.
Steyn’s problem is a fundamental one. I was in England recently and bumped into a former Bok flyhalf, one of the great goal-kickers of the modern era. Having watched Steyn closely over the last year, he has made some interesting and worrying observations about Steyn’s goal-kicking technique.
Significantly, these flaws were highlighted after the Boks beat Argentina in Cape Town. It was a time when everybody, including Meyer, claimed that Steyn was back to his best. My source shook his head at this assertion. Steyn, he argued, would continue to struggle.
The following Saturday, Steyn missed two goal attempts in Mendoza. Two weeks later, he missed one penalty and two drop-goal attempts.
It wasn’t unexpected, at least not from the former Bok flyhalf, and it once again raised the question that everybody has asked at one time or another: What does Steyn offer the Boks if not a reliable goal-kicking option?
His tactical-kicking game has always been a strength, and to be fair, the Boks were good in this department during the first half of the Test in Perth. But too often his tactical- and goal-kicking strengths have been put forward as the argument for his inclusion, and are the reasons why his limp attacking game and frail defence are so often overlooked.
Teams need a reliable goal-kicker to win tight matches, but the modern game also demands a balance between attack and defence. Steyn cannot offer that balance. He possesses neither the skill set nor the vision to be a force on attack, and is a traditional flyhalf in the sense that he is loathe to put his body on the line in the tackle.
The Bok game plan has been lambasted in recent months. Most have called for a complete overhaul and pointed to the All Blacks as an example of how the Boks should play. I agree that the Boks can learn from the All Blacks, but I don’t think a complete rethink is required.
The All Blacks are the best team on the planet because they boast the best balance between attack and defence. The Chiefs won this year’s Super Rugby tournament because they enjoyed such a balance, and the Sharks were South Africa’s best team because they too embraced a more rounded approach.
This doesn’t mean the Boks should stop kicking for territory; it simply means that they should vary their approach and become a less predictable force. And to do that, they will need to employ a flyhalf who is capable of asking questions of the opposition defence.
Steyn is not that flyhalf, and given his loss of goal-kicking form, he can no longer make a contribution to the Boks.
Persisting with Steyn will do the Boks more harm than good. It would be more prudent to send him back to Pretoria where he can address the problems with his kicking technique.
Let him get to the root of his troubles, let him build some confidence in the Currie Cup. Let him rediscover that trademark accuracy and amass so many points that, as was the case in 2009, he cannot be denied a place in the Bok set-up.
Meyer claims that Steyn is a warrior. They’re cheap words. Let Steyn prove it; let him fight his way back into contention. Don’t reward his mediocrity by picking him week after week. Let him earn his place.
Dropping Steyn will allow the Boks to develop a more balanced approach. It will also force Steyn to address his flagging strengths.
I doubt that installing Pat Lambie or Johan Goosen at flyhalf will bring the Boks immediate success, but it will ensure that they start to move in the right direction.
Goosen earned his first cap in Perth, and in those 10 minutes he offered more on attack than Steyn has in three years. When Lambie has started at 10, he has also posed more of an attacking threat. The Australasian tour in 2011 was a prime example, as Lambie stood out despite the poor effort of his forwards.
There is some value in the current game plan, and it would be foolish to dispense with it completely. What’s needed is variation, an allowance and understanding that attack is an integral part of the modern game, and that no team can defend for 80 minutes.
It’s wrong that Steyn’s loss of goal-kicking form should be the catalyst for change. But change is desperately needed.
Steyn’s inaccuracies have already cost South Africa in three matches. They cannot be ignored whether your game plan is ultra conservative or perfectly balanced. Whichever way you want to look at it, persisting with Steyn would be counterproductive.
That being said, Meyer must avoid the temptation to turn Lambie and Goosen into Steyn clones. Both these players have the potential to become complete flyhalves in the mould of Dan Carter. They must be backed and allowed the necessary room to realise that potential.
Embrace their full skill set and you will embrace a more balanced approach. Only then will the results against New Zealand and Australia come with any great consistency.