Morné Steyn did the job required for a momentary Springboks escape from a 2016 horror season more infamous than famous, writes MARK KEOHANE.
Steyn has always been among the most accurate goal-kickers in the world. He wins team goal-kicking contests when it’s a case of Steyn generally winning the strike-rate percentages and ensuring the Springboks a victory.
The Boks’ 21-10 defeat against the All Blacks a few years ago in Dunedin was an aberration when Steyn missed five goal-kick attempts, but even the greatest of them (New Zealand’s Dan Carter) once missed six out of seven.
Steyn is not in any way the future to evolve or advance the Boks as a team with backs capable of being as effective as a physical Bok forward generally is in the collisions.
He never has been, which doesn’t mean he isn’t a good player. He has strengths, which include his attitude, his mental toughness, his rugby intelligence and he has the boot to control field position in home Test matches such as against Australia on Saturday.
Steyn is a master of turning set-piece superiority into strong set-piece field positions and his every strength is accentuated when the Springboks are physically stronger in the scrum and dominant in the tackle.
Steyn against Australia did what he did at Loftus for a decade when his forwards got on a roll.
Australia did exactly what they have in their history of playing at Loftus … they lost.
The match was true to the current strength of both national teams. This is the least imposing Wallabies side in the last 20 years and the Springboks, as a unit this season have been ordinary, unsettled and just poor in most technical aspects, which is why they have lost to Ireland in South Africa and lost to Ireland, Argentina, Australia and New Zealand away.
The All Blacks hammered the Boks by 28 points but this is consistent with what the All Blacks have done to every opponent, home or away, and unrelated to the make-up of the run-on XV.
England, courtesy of winning the Six Nations and beating the woeful Wallabies 3-0 in a series played in Australia, are ranked second to the All Blacks but we’ll only know the potential of England when they play the All Blacks.
For now they are very much a part of a pack 20 points off the All Blacks that includes the Aussies, South Africa and Argentina.
Results this season support that the only difference between the three is home-ground advantage.
The Bok coaches, through team selection and results, have got very little right this year but in picking Steyn to kick the Boks to victory against Australia they recognized that victory was the only priority. Steyn, awesome in these type of matches, has however never been a Test No 10 with the skills to be a match-winner when the Bok forwards are negated in the set piece and ineffective in the collision.
Steyn was picked at flyhalf to maximise a provincial and Super Rugby career at the Bulls and no matter the qualities of the Aussie backs on attack, they were likely to be attacking without the crucial metres gained from a dominant collision.
The Boks were physical stronger in the collision and at the maul and comfortably turned over Australian scrum attacks.
The Boks were winners in every regard against the Wallabies because of why (Steyn), where (Loftus) and also who (the Wallabies).
See everything about the win in isolation to that 80 minutes and getting a win after not winning a Test away from home in the Rugby Championship.
And applaud the thinking for getting the necessary result and for halting the losing streak. Players, coaches and Bok supporters got to experience that winning feeling, and Australia got the customary Test defeat at Loftus. The match was like every Bok ending of a losing sequence when playing outside South Africa turned our pitbulls into poodles and the famed Bok home granite into putty.
Read nothing into this win as the turning of a corner and don’t now be lulled into thinking the Boks have settled and that Steyn is again the man to command the No 10 jersey.
Steyn is a great option in a one-off crisis, but history in the 2011 and buildup to 2015 World Cups highlighted that Steyn is a man for a crisis and not one around whom to build a four-year World Cup cycle.
Not that this history will necessarily be acknowledged because what we do know is that the only thing Bok coaches learn from the history of their predecessors is that they don’t learn anything.
*Read Keohane on Twitter.com/mark_keohane
Photo: Anne Laing/HSM Images