Heyneke Meyer says dropping Morne Steyn from the Springboks’ squad was not the solution to remedying his struggles.
Steyn has been the central villain in what has been a nightmare Rugby Championship campaign for the Springboks. His ball-in-hand play is widely perceived to be average, while his tactical and goal kicking has lacked its trademark accuracy.
There is a sense that a large portion of the South African rugby fraternity has lost patience with Steyn, the tipping point coming in their most recent Test against the All Blacks in Dunedin, where he missed kicks which were decisive in the final analysis.
Meyer has consistently voiced his view that Steyn’s heavy workload over the last three years has compromised him and reiterated this after the Dunedin defeat once more. He intimated then that he would rest Steyn for the home leg, but said those plans were shelved in light of a ruling that requires Springboks players to compete in the Currie Cup if not in the squad.
‘We need to look at how we manage our players but it was best that he stayed involved,’ Meyer said. ‘There is a lot of criticism [directed] at Morne, but you’re still working with a human being. If you look at when Bryan [Habana] was struggling, as a coach you can’t just throw a guy away and expect him to come back stronger. I’m not the type of coach to just throw a guy away.
‘Obviously if you do stupid things there’s no sympathy [Meyer would later suggest that Dean Greyling wouldn't play Test rugby again because of his cowardly assault Richie McCaw]. But Morne’s general play was good, it was his kicking that was poor and we have to work on that. It is great to have him in the group, especially with Johan Goosen not being 100% fit [bruised heel]. I can already see being back home has helped him.’
Meyer continued to defend his gameplan, which is thought to be too conservative, stressing that his belief in its effectiveness hasn’t diminished. ‘There’s been a lot of talk about the gameplan but I thought we played the All Blacks perfectly,’ he said.
‘We had more scoring chances than them but we finished poorly. We didn’t convert pressure into points. The teams are so close in Test rugby that that is costly. It frustrated me today in training because when we broke the line guys didn’t show an instinct to finish. They almost appeared to stop. We have to finish better. There isn’t a lot to change in the gameplan, we just have to finish better.’
He also suggested that expectations need to be tempered in keeping with his infancy in the role. ‘I’ve checked the stats, Steve Hansen has been with the All Blacks for 100 Tests. Robbie Deans has just surpassed Bob Dwyer’s 65 Tests as coach. The Argentinian coach has been there for four or five years. I’ve been with the team for seven weeks,’ he said.
‘When you take over a new team with new coaching staff and players and take on the top sides in the world there will be a bit of self doubt for everybody. The players know they could have beaten Australia and New Zealand. But I sense the self-belief is growing. That comes with experience and we’re short on that. But we’re home now and the lessons from those defeats must show in our performances.’
By Ryan Vrede, in Pretoria