Koen keeps faith in Morne

Springbok kicking coach Louis Koen thinks pressure and fatigue could be the primary reasons for Morne Steyn’s goal-kicking struggles, but said he will recover and he could play a pivotal role on the year-end tour.

Steyn has battled this year but was backed by Heyneke Meyer on the basis of his match-winning ability with the boot. However, he crashed in Dunedin with the All Blacks on the ropes, missing a string of kicks that would have altered the result.

Koen was lost for an absolute explanation on Steyn’s form, but speculated that he was feeling the heat.

‘It is difficult to pin-point the exact reasons. We’ve been logging every single kick in training since before the England series, and for example, Morne has kicked around 620 kicks from all over the field since then and averaged about 88%, by far the best of the kickers,’ Koen said.

‘Technique-wise we’ve done a lot of analysis and I haven’t changed anything. So when it comes down to performance in a match, it is probably due to pressure and expectation. However, outside of the 2010 Tri-Nations, Morne has never achieved above an 80% success rate in any series he has been involved in. There’s a perception that he achieves 95% every time he is involved. The expectations were high and the pressure built on him. It became a question of handling pressure and he found that tough.

‘Also, a guy like Dave Alred (widely regarded as the world’s best kicking coach) believes the kicking game is as much mental as it is technical, so fatigue could be an issue. In Morne’s case he has played a lot of rugby in the last three years. [Fatigue] certainly could have been a factor.’

The Springboks’ coaching staff have, however, consistently stressed that Steyn’s Test career is far from over. Koen echoed that sentiment, suggesting that he may be re-installed at flyhalf sooner than some expect.

‘I believe with my whole heart that he’ll be back,’ he said. ‘He needs to regain his confidence in the Currie Cup. He still has a lot to offer South African rugby. If you look ahead at the year-end tour to Europe, where a more tactical approach is needed, I can’t speak for the coach but he can be very effective in that environment.’

The Springboks’ goal-kicking woes have extended to their other kickers as well, with Frans Steyn, Ruan Pienaar and Johan Goosen, who kicked at 86% in Super Rugby but missed with two from two attempts at Loftus, all failing to consistently hit the mark. Steyn and Goosen have, admittedly, tried a number of long-range pots, while Goosen also battled severe bruising on his planting foot at the weekend. Koen says Pienaar is likely to take the kicks against the Blacks at Soccer City.

He is also confident their success in this facet of play will improve over time.

‘[The goal-kicking] has been more disappointing than worrying,’ he said. ‘But it gives me confidence that a guy like Peter Grant, whom I’ve been working with since 2005 at the Stormers, was consistently one of the best in Super Rugby. It says I’m on the right track, but it is a process. It will take time to establish a relationship of trust. I want to get to the place where if one of our goal-kickers is struggling, I’ll be able to make immediate changes. I’m not there yet.’

By Ryan Vrede, in Johannesburg

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