Morné Steyn's value as an unflappable goal-kicker was highlighted in Saturday's dogfight in Mendoza, writes JON CARDINELLI.
There is as much to celebrate as there is to lament following the narrow victory over Argentina at the Estadio Malvinas last Saturday.
The Boks' 22-17 win marked their eighth victory on the trot. It was also their first away win in the Sanzar competition since they beat the All Blacks in Hamilton in 2009. They will take heart from the fact that they are winning consistently and have improved on their 2012 performances.
However, as both the coach and captain admitted after the result in Mendoza, they will need to to show more attitude and accuracy in the next four matches.
The Boks were always going to struggle to maintain the high standards set in the previous game at Soccer City, but few would have predicted such an underwhelming showing in Mendoza.
Some will take aim at referee Steve Walsh, or at the Pumas themselves for an approach that wasn't always in line with the laws. The game was an ill-tempered affair, and afterwards Meyer agreed that it was similar to the clash against Scotland last June.
The Boks were outplayed physically by a determined Scotland pack and were done no favours by the referee. But as Francois Louw said after the Scotland game, and again following the match in Mendoza, the Boks must look to be physically dominant if they are going to eliminate these factors.
Collectively, the Boks underperformed in just about every facet. Not for the first time in recent history, it was up to Morné Steyn to spare them an embarrassing loss.
The Pumas scored their first try in the second minute and from that point the Boks were forced to chase the game.
Saturday's crowd at the Estadio Malvinas was disappointing in terms of numbers, but I can confirm that at times the noise made by those 24,000 passionate and partisan fans made it feel as if the number was closer to 50,000.
It made for a hostile environment, and Steyn bore the brunt of the crowd's jeers whenever he lined up a kick. The pressure couldn't have been greater. His team were on the back foot for most of the game and relying on him to score the bulk of their points.
None of those penalty or conversion attempts was taken from favourable field positions, and yet Steyn held his nerve to slot six out of six.
Asked afterwards how he had felt in an environment where the jeers for South Africa were as loud as the cheers for Argentina, Steyn responded with a shrug.
'I'm used to it,' he said. 'I experience the same thing every time I play at Newlands [against the Stormers], so I should be able to handle it by now.'
Steyn has always been a modest sort, but even he has acknowledged that 2013 has witnessed a significant improvement in his game.
The year 2012 was a difficult one for South Africa, and the worst of Steyn's career. Sources close to the Bok camp have confirmed that there were non-rugby related issues that afflicted Steyn during this period. He had also played the game almost non-stop for three seasons, and was both physically and mentally exhausted.
The Boks would have beaten England in that third Test in Port Elizabeth had Steyn produced a more accurate goal-kicking performance. The same was true of the matches against Argentina in Mendoza and against the All Blacks in Dunedin. It's fair to say that if Steyn was at his typical best in 2012, the Boks' record would have read: played 12, won 10, lost 2. That's the difference a good goal-kicker can make to a Test, and indeed a season.
The good news for the Boks is that Steyn has regained his goal-kicking mojo. He was in excellent touch during the 2013 Super Rugby competition and may have steered the Bulls to the final if captain Dewald Potgieter had opted to take more shots at goal rather than kick the penalties to touch in the last 13 minutes of the semi-final.
Steyn has successfully carried that form through to the Test arena. There was no pressure in the fixture at Soccer City, but the sense of responsibility couldn't have been greater in the subsequent game in Mendoza.
Steyn was equal to the challenge, and this is an encouraging sign as the Boks prepare for Tests of even greater intensity and importance in Australia and New Zealand.
There was complacency following the 73-13 blowout at Soccer City, but the Boks will be mentally ready for the battle in Brisbane next week. They will go into that match as underdogs, as South Africa have never won a Test at Suncorp Stadium.
And yet, there is hope, given the Wallabies' current struggles. There will always be hope of an upset victory when Steyn is in this sort of goal-kicking form.
Steyn is the best flyhalf available to Meyer at present. Johan Goosen will challenge for that position when he returns from injury, but for now Morné is the man.
It's important that he continues to do what he does best. It will give the Boks a strong chance of ending a four-year drought Down Under, and place them in a strong position to win the following games at Newlands and Ellis Park.
Photo: Andres Larrovere/AFP Photo
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