Div lauds 'No 1' pivot Steyn
Morné Steyn (Gallo Images)
Port Elizabeth - Springbok coach Peter de Villiers was a mightily relieved man after his side's 18-5 Tri-Nations victory over the All Blacks at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium here on Saturday.
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He had flyhalf Morné Steyn to thank, perhaps more than any one else.
Last week, De Villiers' demeanour was vastly different after his side was defeated by the Wallabies in Durban.
The Boks were under the whip in the opening minutes in Port Elizabeth but Steyn proved his match-winning ability with accurate place-kicks from just inside the All Blacks half.
The resultant timely advances fuelled the Boks' commitment in the face of frequent first-half line breaks by the New Zealanders.
"Morné is a very good rugby player," said De Villiers.
"He knows now that he is very important to this team and that he can take the team to the World Cup when he's on song, like he was in this match.
"He's still our number one. I've never had questions about Morné.
"Sometimes you have to make these decisions, like to drop him for two games to help his development.
"I know he can take this team through a World Cup."
The victory for the South Africans had offered great relief both for the team and the country's supporters.
"The result will help us going forward and make people believe in this team again," said De Villiers.
"It was a tough game but we came through this test of character.
"We were under huge pressure and it was a just reward for all the hard work."
De Villiers said it was clear the players were starting to understand the structures that management were putting in place and said this was the reason for the Boks' good scramble defence.
"Defence is all about teamwork and playing for each other, and the guys did that in this match," he said.
The Springboks' match-day captain Victor Matfield afterwards reflected on the team's ability to play as a unit after several players had been inactive in the past few months.
"Perhaps the pleasing aspect was that this game showed we are now coming together as a team," said Matfield.
"There is still room for a lot of improvement because we want to get even better and we have a lot of work to do between now and the World Cup.
"We'll look at the match video on Monday and then work on the detail.
"I was impressed with the defence. There will always be line breaks, but the guys worked hard to get back and make the cover tackles in good time."
All Blacks coach Graham Henry was unselfish as he lauded the Boks' match-winning performance.
"They played with a lot of passion and I thought the Boks were very good," said Henry.
"They scrambled well on defence, and kicked their goals.
"On the other hand, we had six opportunities to score and only took one of them."
Henry said he had no concern over his side's game plan as they managed to create enough scoring opportunities.
"I'm sure that when we get a few of our more experienced players back, I expect that things will settle down a bit," said Henry.
Henry's assistant Wayne Smith, also praised the Boks' cover defence.
"It's not too often that you break the opposition's line 23 times and you end up losing the match," said Smith.
"But it says a lot for their [the Boks'] scrambling defence.
"It looked like we lacked patience in closing those try-scoring situations.
"I suppose it was the new combinations or just youth, or maybe South Africa's defence was just too good on the day."