RYAN VREDE writes that Heyneke Meyer’s faithfulness to Morné Steyn was largely predictable but still utterly disappointing.
Steyn is not so good that he is indispensable to the Springboks. There is not an absence of alternatives. Yet such has been the faith his Springbok coaches have shown in him – despite form that has veered between mediocre and poor in the last three years – that one would think Steyn’s absence would be terminal. It won’t.
A long professional association with Meyer means I had a sense that he wouldn’t thrust rookie Johan Goosen into a Test against the world champions on their home soil as a starter. He would have had concerns about the damage a poor performance would have on the kid’s confidence. He remains the flyhalf Meyer sees as the future. He should have been the present. Yet Meyer’s fear of failure determined Steyn’s stay of execution.
Meyer will argue against this assertion. He’ll speak of the importance of continuity in selection, of believing in the much-maligned game plan. These things are important, but Goosen could have been accommodated within the existing structures. His kicking game is good, while his ball-in-hand play would have given the Springboks a new dimension in field positions where they ‘play’. Meyer would also put forward Goosen’s untested temperament under pressure. Yet he has said to me on countless occasions that temperament is only forged when players are put in pressure situations. I’m also certain most in the South African rugby fraternity could tolerate defeat if there was a clear understanding of what Meyer was trying to achieve by running a rookie 10 in his first year as coach.
Still, Meyer could build a case for not starting Goosen based on the aforementioned reservations. Not so for continuing to ignore the claims of Pat Lambie, who possesses every technical skill Steyn does and then some. Lambie is viewed primarily as a fullback but has played extensively at flyhalf in Super Rugby. He is 21 years old, but is well advanced of that in terms of his capacity to negotiate the technical, physical and mental demands of the game at its elite level.
Goosen starting would have been first prize, Lambie’s run-on a close second. Yet we’ll have to endure another week of Steyn’s mediocrity. There is a perplexing desperation that accompanies his selection. Without wanting to come across as defeatist or naive regarding the results-driven nature of the game, the Springboks are never expected to win in New Zealand. This rings even truer with a clutch of key senior players missing. The team isn’t in a position where it has to settle on a No 10 for an impending World Cup. There was room and reason to explore alternatives to Steyn.
Steyn has another lifeline for his Test career, as he did when Peter de Villiers selected him against a B-grade All Blacks side in Port Elizabeth in 2011. Butch James had the inside lane up to that point, but Steyn’s goal-kicking was put forward (by his influential Bulls team-mates within the squad) as motivation for his reinstatement at flyhalf. I doubt Steyn – the ultimate survivor – will manage to keep his flame burning in Dunedin. Meyer’s response then will be even more telling.
I had hoped Meyer would shatter the widely-held perception that he is conservative. I still do. But Steyn’s continued selection does his cause in this regard no good.