It would make complete sense for the Springboks to tap into Morne Steyn’s considerable Intellectual Property for the British & Irish Lions series, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
Back in April, and following episode three of SA Rugby magazine’s popular ‘The War Room’ video series, readers were asked to pick their preferred No 10 in a hypothetical scenario where incumbent Handre Pollard was not available for selection.
Interestingly, but not all that surprisingly, Steyn was the overwhelming favourite to deputise at flyhalf. The 36-year-old veteran of 66 Tests earned 35.63% of the vote to once again take on the Lions, having famously kicked the winning penalty in the 2009 series.
Of course, the good news is that Pollard has successfully returned from injury, and even if this was not the case, I’d suspect the Boks would have been inclined to start the 27-year-old even if he was on crutches.
Such hyperbole is simply to highlight the importance of Pollard to the Bok cause, with the physical flyhalf boasting the all-round attributes to fit seamlessly into the Springboks’ preferred gameplan.
At the World Cup, the Boks famously opted against having a specialist flyhalf on the bench, instead backing Pollard to play the full 80 minutes, knowing that Frans Steyn (and even Willie le Roux) could slot in at 10 in an emergency situation.
Should the Rassie Erasmus-Jacques Nienaber brains trust need to look beyond Pollard, it’s likely they would turn to Elton Jantjies, who recently headed to France to play for Pau primarily with the intention of getting into the best possible condition for the Lions tour.
However, there is good reason that readers expressed their faith in the experienced Morne Steyn.
Not long after the Lions play their first tour game in South Africa, Steyn will celebrate his 37th birthday on 11 July. In fact, there is every chance Steyn’s reunion against the Lions could take place the day before his birthday when the Bulls host the touring team at Loftus.
Despite his age – and the preconception that he may be ‘over the hill’ – Steyn continues to play some emphatically assured rugby for the Bulls.
On Saturday, he was once again named Man of the Match in a Bulls demolition of the Sharks, producing an absolute masterclass in how to boss proceedings as the team’s flyhalf general.
Steyn’s quite masterful form has been a key component in the Bulls’ stunning resurgence over the last nine months, and he is the embodiment of the old cliche: ‘ageing like a fine wine’.
At a time when there aren’t exactly a ton of South African flyhalves knocking down the national door, the Springbok bosses have taken notice and included Steyn in recent alignment camps.
It’s expected that an enlarged squad of some 47 players will be picked for the British & Irish Lions series and subsequent Rugby Championship, and there is every reason to believe Steyn could crack the nod as the ‘third’ flyhalf in the group.
If there are any untimely injuries, the Springboks could do a whole lot worse than to have Steyn slotting into the flyhalf channel during high-pressure situations.
As much as anything, though, I could foresee Steyn fulfilling a similar role to the one performed by another veteran Schalk Brits during the 2019 World Cup.
In many ways, Brits was almost like a player-coach, offering vast knowledge, unique insights and an analysis of opposition that ensured he was one of the Boks’ unsung heroes at the World Cup despite only featuring as a player in the pool stages.
Brits was the personification of a ‘team man’, putting the ambitions of the Springboks before any personal cause, and Steyn is the sort of individual who could offer similar value as a mentor, analyst and information sharer.
It’s not to say Steyn couldn’t make an on-field impact if the need arose, but primarily, his off-field value is why it would make complete sense for him to be part of the Bok squad for the Lions series.