‘The Mule’ kicks into gear

Frans Steyn’s siege-gun boot and patent sense of responsibility was the difference in the Sharks’ win over the Lions, writes JON CARDINELLI.

The Sharks dominated the collisions and had the Lions defence stretched for large periods of this fixture. It will irk the coaching staff that they didn’t make more of their opportunities.

Too often they were undone by handling errors and poor decision-making, and it’s clear they have some way to go before they click as a combination.

What the Sharks aren’t short on at present is individual brilliance. Willem Alberts had a big game as a ball-carrier and momentum-stopping tackler, while Cobus Reinach’s break and finish at the end of the first half was special.  

However, neither of these men compared to Steyn on the night. Playing in the unfamiliar position of No 10 (he has settled at centre since returning from a stint in French club rugby), Steyn commanded respect as a ball-carrier and tactical-kicker.

More impressive than his physicality and leadership was his goal-kicking. Steyn has always possessed a right boot second to none in terms of raw power. When he has managed to marry power and accuracy, ‘the Mule’ has proved a match-winner. This was most certainly the case in the game against the Lions.

In an interview with Heyneke Meyer in early 2012, the Springbok coach told me that Steyn didn’t have any weaknesses. Meyer highlighted Steyn’s kicking prowess, and went so far as to say that Steyn’s ability to sink long-range goal kicks weighed on the mind of the opposition. In short, the opposition is wary of impeding within 60m of their own goal posts when Steyn is on the park.

On Saturday, the Sharks led the Lions 23-9 at half-time, with Steyn contributing 13 points. He succeeded in converting every attempt and most significantly, a couple of those kicks where taken from within his own half.

The Sharks will face sterner tests of character in the coming months, and it’s good to know that one of their most important players is operating at maximum efficiency.

Pat Lambie will resume the goal-kicking duties when he returns (he missed Saturday’s match due to tick-bite fever), but neither Lambie nor any other kicker can match Steyn for distance.

‘The Mule’ has already achieved so much, both as a Super Rugby player and as a Bok. He moved past 100 Super Rugby points this Saturday, and there’s little doubt that his most recent match contribution went a long way to beating the Lions.

Steyn has nailed drop goals to win a Tri-Nations Test (against Australia in 2007), penalties to win a World Cup final (against England in 2007), and conversions to seal hoodoo-ending victories (against New Zealand in Dunedin in 2008).

It’s been a long time since we’ve seen the best of Steyn, but on the evidence of recent weeks, he’s in terrific physical shape, relishing his role as a leader, and is starting to convert those long-range goal-attempts more consistently.

This bodes well for the Sharks, who may need to rely on Steyn’s boot to win a few games later in the season. It is also a good sign for Meyer and the Boks, who will surely make use of Steyn’s unique talents later in the year.

Photo: Steve Haag/Getty Images

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Jon Cardinelli