Oh what a difference a year makes.
This time last year, we were questioning Heyneke Meyer’s sanity for even thinking about including Morne Steyn in his Bok mix. This week Allister Coetzee is the hero for bringing him back!
Meyer of course had Handre Pollard as his first choice flyhalf and it just seemed absurd and a bit backward to be considering Steyn ahead of him. Coetzee on the other hand, never had Pollard, lost Pat Lambie to injury and took a chance on Elton Jantjies, no doubt bowing to public sentiment given the success of the Lions.
Meyer was chased out of town for his reticence with regard to embracing a more heads up, ball in hand approach. Now we celebrate just getting to the final whistle without embarrassing ourselves.
I wonder how different the Bok story this year would have been had Coetzee opted for Steyn from the get go? Would he have even been allowed to make that call? And I often wonder what Meyer would have done had he been in Coetzee’s shoes?
Coetzee said publicly that Lions rugby would not work at Test level, and was at pains to point out his reluctance to implement that sort of game plan, yet for whatever reasons, chose to play the architect of the Lions game at flyhalf for the Boks.
It did not work, and I for one, am not at all surprised.
Now we have Steyn, who can definitely play a more enterprising sort of game - the Bulls played some wonderful rugby with him at 10 - but if I was Coetzee that is the last thing I would want him to have on his mind on Saturday.
Together with a controlled calmness that was great for the Bok backline, Steyn was brought in to do a job, and that he did against the Aussies - via 4 penalties and 2 drop goals. He also took control of the Bok kicking game, making 11 of their 25 kicks. But given that the Boks only enjoyed 40% of the territory, the kicks from hand - together with the chasing of said kicks - will need to change improve against the All Blacks.
Steyn simply has to find some grass. Kick directly to their big guns like Julian Savea and Waisake Naholo out wide, and the Boks will eat their dust. Turn those tankers with astute kicking, put pressure on them with a good chase, and that is when they make errors.
Israel Dagg is second on the handling errors list having made 10, while Savea has made nine to be third on that list. The Boks simply have to apply pressure out wide via the kick-chase.
Another way to deprive their backline of ball is to attack the lineout. Eben Etzebeth and Pieter-Steph du Toit owned the air in Vodacom Super Rugby, but contesting lineouts seems not to be a Bok tactic. Perhaps they are nervous of the driving maul? Were I in Coetzee’s shoes, I would rather be defending the drive than the likes of Savea, Ben Smith and Nahalo in full flight, though!
Speaking of defence... one thing I would absolutely insist on is the outside man sticking to his man. Far too often the Boks have been sucked in on defence, leaving the outside man in space. Against the All Blacks that is suicide. Happy for the system to remain “Up and out”, and for players to remain linked, but at some point you have to make the call to trust the cover instead of giving the outside man free reign.
The Bok selection strategy looks far too muddled and lacking in planning for my liking, so it will be interesting to see who partners Steyn at scrumhalf. For me it would be Faf de Klerk, who would thrive in a partnership that saw him less responsible for the kicking game, but I am guessing we will see Francois Hougaard switch from wing to halfback to add to the mud.
The Boks do tend to grow another leg when playing the All Blacks, and while I will not be betting my house on it, if they get their kicking game right, might the Boks pull off an unlikely win to ruin our guests' pursuit of a record 18th win on the trot?
Tank Lanning is a former Western Province prop and vociferous tweeter from @frontrowgrunt.Disclaimer: Sport24
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