Springboks

Heat mounts on Morne to spark

2012-08-13 11:22
Morne Steyn (Gallo)
Cape Town – Will simply recapturing his metronomic best place-kicking standards against Argentina at Newlands on Saturday be enough to cement Morne Steyn’s ongoing place in the Springbok side?

That is a million-dollar question on the lips of many observers, and obviously best answered at some point by the man who has shown undying faith in the Bulls No 10 for several years, Bok coach Heyneke Meyer.

It was an area of Steyn’s game – undoubtedly his strongest suit by reputation -- that went unusually absent without leave in the recent series against England, where his place-kicking record dropped to below 60 percent.

And if Steyn is missing his shots at the posts, the argument goes, how else does he justify retention by the national team?

So the 28-year-old is probably under at least a certain amount of dual pressure in the opening Bok assignment of the Castle Rugby Championship: get his mojo off the tee back quickly and also demonstrate that he does have the broader attributes to bother the very best the southern hemisphere has to offer as the tournament roster only gets more daunting for the Boks.

Officially, at present, Steyn is unsurprisingly not feeling any special flak.

At a media briefing on Sunday, backline coach Ricardo Louscher only uttered routinely: “He’s been a professional for a long time ... he will know what he needs to work on.”

Loubscher also repeated what captain Jean de Villiers had said a few days previously: that the clean-cut flyhalf had played his part in some of the tries the Boks scored against England.

Such statements may carry a ring of truth, when you replay video evidence of the three-Test series, but there’s also a case for saying you would expect your No 10 to be reasonably central to various attacking plays anyway, given his positional stationing on the park.

Interestingly, at least two critics in New Zealand, home of World Cup champions the All Blacks, chose at the weekend to pinpoint Steyn as some sort of restrictive handbrake to consistent Bok success.

Columnist and former Test bad-boy front-ranker Richard Loe said in the New Zealand Herald: “(South Africa’s) biggest selection question is over first five-eighth (flyhalf).

“If they select Morne Steyn, that will slow down their attacking play. They need a (flyhalf) who runs on to the ball and can get their backline away; they have some interesting characters in that backline ... such as Frans Steyn in midfield alongside Jean de Villiers.

“That gives them some real crunch going forward and on defence – (but) having someone like Steyn at 10 also tends to rob them of the spark that can come from (scrumhalf) Francois Hougaard.”

Loe suggested, nevertheless, that the Boks still posed the biggest threat to the All Blacks in the new, four-nation event.

“As ever, South Africa will be a danger to all teams at home – even the All Blacks, I’d suggest. Because of their forwards’ shortcomings, I think the Wallabies will struggle to win either of the two Tests against the Boks.”

Similar views were expressed in the same paper by scribe Gregor Paul: “It is hard to see it being anything but a two-horse race (between the All Blacks and Boks).

“There is significant playmaking talent in the Bok squad. Pat Lambie has vision, Elton Jantjies can run and pull strings and even Frans Steyn can slip into No 10 and get the backline moving.

“SA coach Meyer is a big believer in Morne Steyn, though. Steyn is a brilliant goal-kicker, great punter and an excellent but limited tactical navigator. He delivers the basic game the Boks revel in but they will never really hurt teams with him running the show.”

That is the sort of backdrop of public scrutiny, both here and abroad, against which Morne Steyn starts the Castle Rugby Championship on Saturday.

In fairness, he has allayed fears around his general footballing finesse and vision before, and there have certainly been good periods when the Bulls have not struggled for tries in Super Rugby with him in their flyhalf slot.

But if the Boks look unacceptably sterile as an attacking force even in victory against the Pumas this weekend, you can bet Steyn’s detractors will only crank it up like never before ...

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    springboks  |  morne steyn  |  rugby
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