Heyneke Meyer (Gallo Images)
Johannesburg - Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer says it was a tough decision to drop flyhalf Morné Steyn for Saturday's Rugby Championship Test against Australia in Pretoria, but backed the experienced pivot to come back a stronger player in future.
Under-fire Steyn was on Wednesday replaced by Johan Goosen for the clash at Loftus Versfeld.
Steyn's form deserted him as the Springboks drew in Argentina and then lost to Australia in Perth and New Zealand in Dunedin.
"It was a very difficult decision, but I have to look after the team's interests first and then the individual's. Morné really wanted to play, especially at Loftus, his home ground, but he is a true champion and he took my decision gracefully," Meyer told a news conference on Wednesday.
"He has won a lot of games for his country, just the last few have not gone well. But Morné's not someone you need to feel sorry for, he's a fighter and he will come back stronger."
Goosen, 20, who looked a prodigious talent in SuperRugby for the Cheetahs before a dislocated shoulder ruled him out at the halfway stage of the competition, has promised much in two appearances totalling half-an-hour off the bench.
"Johan has always been in the mix since day one, but it's been a process with him. I feel he is now ready to start a Test for South Africa and I'm excited to see what he can bring," said Meyer.
The uncapped 22-year-old Elton Jantjies has been included as reserve flyhalf and, if inside centre Francois Steyn fails to recover from a twisted ankle, then another debutant, utility back Jaco Taute, will play outside centre with captain Jean de Villiers shifting to No 12, where he has played most of his 79 Tests.
"I'm really passionate about the Springboks, it feels like life and death decisions for myself. But it's not about giving players chances at this level, they must be able to make a difference and I would not put them in the 22 if I did not have confidence in them," Meyer said.
The other changes to the Springbok team that lost 21-11 to New Zealand in Dunedin sees South Africa fielding a new lock pairing in Eben Etzebeth and Andries Bekker that will give them the same lineout that led the Stormers to the top of the Super Rugby standings. No 8 Duane Vermeulen is also a key lineout jumper, while Tiaan Liebenberg is the reserve hooker.
Meyer said the changes in the second row would ensure that the Springboks had taller players better suited to the strong Australian lineout.
"All the locks are sticking up their hands and we're building great depth there, so it was a tough call. Flip van der Merwe had probably his best game ever for the Springboks and Juandré Kruger was very good too.
"Against the All Blacks, you want locks that play more to the ball and Flip and Juandré were superb at the rucks. But Australia are very good in the lineout, they will put us under pressure there, and one of Bekker's other strengths is that, in a more open game, he has the ability to pitch up at centre or on the wing."Teams:
15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Bryan Habana, 13 Jean de Villiers (captain), 12 Francois Steyn/Jaco Taute, 11 Francois Hougaard, 10 Johan Goosen, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Willem Alberts, 6 Francois Louw, 5 Andries Bekker, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Adriaan Strauss, 1 Beast Mtawarira
Substitutes: 16 Tiaan Liebenberg, 17 Coenie Oosthuizen, 18 Flip van der Merwe, 19 Marcell Coetzee, 20 Elton Jantjies, 21 Jaco Taute/Juan de Jongh, 22 Patrick Lambie