50-up Steyn to tilt it again?
Morne Steyn (Gallo Images)
Cape Town – For all the talk about the dynamic brand of rugby the Springboks plan to play against the Wallabies at Newlands on Saturday (17:00 kick-off), nobody should be too surprised if a South African win is primarily based around Morné Steyn’s legendary ability off the kicking tee.
Yes, in the back of the Boks’ minds in the Rugby Championship Test will be thoughts of a bonus point to really keep the pressure up on the table-leading All Blacks – who play Argentina away a few hours later – but their first task is just to beat an Australian side overdue, frankly, for a fire-and-brimstone performance despite their fairly clear underdogs tag.
Everyone in the Bok camp will be well aware that defeat is very likely to violently end their challenge for the 2013 silverware, whereas a victory – whether it be with four log points or five – definitely keeps South African interest alive going into the return showdown with New Zealand at Ellis Park a week later.
So any anxiety to cross the whitewash four times or more must be tempered by thoughts that a too-expansive approach could also open the gate to a shock visiting triumph.
If this particular Test was being played on a dry, hard Highveld pitch, the Boks would be strong fancies to pick up a maximum haul, especially as the Wallabies are notoriously “wobbly” at high altitude.
But Newlands after an especially rain-lashed late winter is a different kettle of fish in playing-environment terms, and a try-fest is anything but guaranteed: the forecast is iffy, with at least light outbreaks of rain both in the lead-up and on match-day possible at this stage.
So Objective No 1 – just winning the clash – may prove the more pertinent to the Boks, and in that respect they have a comforting individual in their midst in the shape of 50th-cap flyhalf Steyn, the 29-year-old who plies his first-class trade these days with Racing Metro.
Steyn actually hails from Cape Town, although the vast majority of his career thus far has been as a popular member of the Bulls camp in Pretoria.
But his place-kicking precision tends not to dip too much, if at all, whenever he plays at Newlands, where he has been responsible for some beefy points hauls across various competitions.
You have only to examine the last meeting between these foes at the rather decaying, yet still atmospheric ground to realise his fondness for putting a personal stamp on games there.
En route to the Tri-Nations title in 2009, Steyn banged over seven penalties from as many attempts, plus landed a dropped goal for good measure in the Boks’ 29-17 victory, even though they were outdone in the try column by two to one.
This writer is inclined to suspect that if the Boks do safely negotiate this hurdle, it will not be with four tries to their name, and more likely with another substantial tally of place-kicking points from Steyn powering the effort.
He told Sport24 on Wednesday that he generally doesn’t struggle to make the minor technical adjustments to place-kicking on a heavy, damp surface despite his greater experience of firmer pitches.
“It is a bit different, and I was reminded of that again when we trained (this week) at the Stormers’ High Performance Centre at Bellville – that field is sopping wet at present and difficult to (kick) on, so luckily we’re going to Newlands today.
“We’ll see how it is ... Jean (de Villiers) and the other local guys said the surface has actually held up quite well. Hopefully we get a dry day on Saturday.”
Earlier, Bok coach Heyneke Meyer
, who has about a decade of experience working with Steyn, paid glowing tribute to his work ethic as he prepares to become the first Springbok No 10 to reach the 50-cap mark.
“I’m really happy for Morne ... he epitomises what I like in a player and for our team. He’s been written off so many times in his life and with due respect to him, he’s not the most gifted player I ever coached, but he’s an unbelievably hard worker.
“If he’s missed one training session in the whole 10 years I have worked with him, then I don’t know about it. (He) always trains 100 percent, never complains, and always takes extra kicks at the end of the practice.
“This is also a guy who didn’t even kick for his school team or initially his provincial team either – he’s an inspiration to many kids out there for demonstrating how it’s not always the best guy who makes it but the one who works the hardest.
“He’s won lots of Test matches for his country ... I hope he can play another 50 games for South Africa.”
*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing