Steyn ticks the right boxes

The impending inclusion of Morné Steyn in the Boks' match 23 for Saturday’s second Test against Ireland makes perfect sense, writes CRAIG LEWIS in Johannesburg.

For spectators who braved the wet and cold conditions in Johannesburg to watch the Boks’ first training session of the week on Monday, there was once again the familiar sight of the 60 Test-cap flyhalf back in action with the team.

Steyn had been on holiday in South Africa after his French side Stade Français failed to progress to the Top 14 semi-finals, and was able to swiftly answer the call to join the Bok camp.

He is now set to earn inclusion on the bench, with Elton Jantjies starting at No 10. Already, there have been widespread public recriminations over how Steyn could possibly be set to come into the match 23 ahead of Garth April, who was an original member of the Bok 31-man squad, and who will also not feature for the SA A side this weekend.

It seems it’s been forgotten that just last year, April was playing club rugby in Cape Town. It also seems to have been overlooked that earlier this year Sharks director of rugby Gary Gold opted to play April predominantly off the bench, citing the fact he needed to gradually become accustomed to the pace and intensity of Super Rugby. And while he eventually impressed in his first three Super Rugby starts, the performances were understandably far from flawless.

Right from the outset, Allister Coetzee has also insisted that the inclusion of April was for him to learn and grow as a player in the Bok environment.  An injury to either Pat Lambie or Jantjies was always going to result in a call-up of a more experienced pivot.

If anything, considering Jantjies did come into the camp with a worrisome finger injury, it was perhaps an oversight to originally include an inexperienced flyhalf who is not quite ready for the step up to Test rugby. But there can be no qualms about Steyn’s call-up following the injury to Lambie.

With vast experience and a virtually peerless kicking game, there is no doubt that Steyn will be the better option to bring off the bench during the potentially tense latter stages of this Saturday’s all-important clash at Ellis Park rather than prematurely exposing April to the Test cauldron.

This week, Coetzee has also highlighted the need for the Boks to show a greater appreciation for territorial dominance and the effective use of a well-balanced kicking game.

‘We have to get the balance right between playing too much, kicking into space and being more effective with our carries. We definitely played too much rugby in our own half last weekend, but it’s also not just about kicking the ball away every time we’re in our 22. If there’s space, let’s take that space, but we don’t have to force it. If there’s no space out wide, then there must be space in behind. So the focus is to look where the space is, and sometimes we also need to make better use of the kick-pass.’

Indeed, it’s often been overlooked how effectively the All Blacks use the cross-kick, grubbers and contestable up-and-unders. The Irish were also effective at putting the ball in behind the Boks at Newlands, trapping them in their 22 and then winning penalties to add further pressure.

This Saturday, the Springboks desperately need to demonstrate greater tactical and territorial appreciation. And in this regard, Steyn is the man for the job.

Photo: Lee Warren/Gallo Images

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Craig Lewis