The Springboks can enjoy short-term success and build some confidence with Morné Steyn at No 10, writes JON CARDINELLI.
Four months ago, Steyn gave a frank interview to a group of journalists on the side of a training field in Johannesburg. At that stage, Steyn had just been called up to the Bok squad as cover for the injured Pat Lambie.
I asked Steyn what he made of the recall. Was it nothing more than a chance to provide cover and serve as a mentor to less experienced players like Elton Jantjies and Faf de Klerk? Or was it another chance, a real opportunity, to make that No 10 jersey his own once more.
Steyn began by detailing his passion for the Boks and his desire to compete at the highest level. In the same breath, he spoke about his commitment to French club Stade Français.
Steyn took control of the conversation like he had taken control of so many big games over the years. ‘I'm thinking about the future,’ he said, 'and the Boks aren’t short of flyhalves when you think that Handré Pollard will be back from injury in 2017, and Lambie will return soon.’
Four months later, and Steyn has made the exact same comments, this time in the wake of an influential 18-point performance for the Boks. Allister Coetzee backed Steyn to start at No 10 against the Wallabies at Loftus Versfeld, and the ace goal-kicker repaid the Bok coach’s faith by kicking four penalties and two drop goals.
Steyn admitted that it’s been a tough couple of years. Prior to the match at Loftus Versfeld, his last Test start was against the Wallabies in Perth in 2014. While he travelled to the 2015 World Cup, it was as the third-choice pivot behind Pollard and Lambie.
The injuries to Pollard and Lambie in 2016, as well as the tactical struggles of Jantjies, have seen Steyn promoted to the starting lineup once more. The big question is what the recent success at Loftus means for the 32-year-old as a Test player, and for the Boks.
On Saturday, Steyn said that he may eventually be forced to choose between his club and his country. Stade Français are pressuring him to make the decision sooner rather than later.
What will make the call easier, as Steyn himself suggested, is the fact that Pollard will be available to the Boks in 2017. It’s possible that the Boks could have Pollard, Lambie, Jantjies, and even Johan Goosen vying for that No 10 jersey in the years leading up to the 2019 World Cup.
Steyn is realistic about his future with this Boks side. That said, he may have an important role to play between now and the end of the year as Pollard recovers, Lambie finds his feet after an injury layoff, and Jantjies addresses his tactical shortcomings.
The All Blacks will be favourites to beat the Boks on 8 October. That result would not come as a shock given that New Zealand have beaten South Africa in eight of the last nine Tests.
Thereafter, the Boks will travel to Europe for a three-Test tour. There will be plenty to play for in the first Test against England at Twickenham on 12 November. The Boks haven’t lost to England since 2006.
That match promises to be a forward-oriented battle in weather-affected conditions. A game manager and goal-kicker of Steyn’s calibre will be needed to steer the Boks to a positive result.
A win at Twickenham would be viewed as a sign of progress after South Africa’s poor start to the season. England have won their last nine matches under Eddie Jones.
One round remains in the Rugby Championship. And yet, the tournament is over as a contest, as the All Blacks have already won the title.
Coetzee should be looking ahead to the end-of-year tour, and backing combinations that he plans to utilise against England and Wales. The Boks need to build momentum and confidence ahead of that tour.
Steyn can provide them with some security in terms of goal-kicking. Prior to Steyn’s selection as a starter at Loftus, the Boks had left 40 points on the park in 2016 due to missed goal kicks.
Steyn doesn’t represent the future of South African rugby. Pollard, Lambie, Jantjies, and even Goosen can provide the Boks with more exciting kicking and attacking options in the years to come.
That said, Steyn can still add value to a Bok side that is desperate to obtain more positive results before the end of 2016. He showed his value at Loftus with an excellent goal-kicking display, and it wouldn’t surprise to see him delivering another influential showing for the Boks on 12 November.
Photo: Anne Laing/HSM Images