Johannesburg - It’s hard to imagine a player who will relish the opportunity for Springbok redemption this week more than Morné Steyn.
According to the supersport.com website, a year ago – Steyn was being cast as the fall guy for the Springbok disappointments as they struggled against Argentina and in the Rugby Championship, and there were loud calls for his axing.
Despite a man of the match performance against Argentina in Cape Town – a test where Steyn looked composed and confident in a season where he was everything but – it was clear that there were many people who simply wanted coach Heyneke Meyer to axe him.
But Meyer is not a man who sways from his beliefs easily.
And it wasn’t like Steyn hasn’t performed in the past.
The Bok coach backed him to buck the slump – a result of two years’ non-stop rugby at every level and no break whatsoever, and ignored the boo brigade.
Meyer eventually did drop Steyn after his kicking game failed in Dunedin, and while he took him along to Europe in November, the flyhalf received the rest he needed and was kept purposely away from the action.
While many will argue about Steyn’s drop in form, there are few who will argue that he has bounced back in style.
In exceptional form for the Bulls in Super Rugby, Steyn was hitting his percentages in goal-kicking again – and dipped just below 90 percent, the best accuracy in the Southern Hemisphere competition.
As he lines up for Saturday’s first test in this year’s Rugby Championship, it is easy to forget the torment he went through a year ago. But Steyn knows he has endured it all, and has come out stronger.
And for this, he credits coach Heyneke Meyer.
"I had a great Super Rugby season and I’m happy where my game is now.
"Last year this time a lot of people didn’t want me to play for the Springboks.
"I’m glad I listened to the right people at the right time to get back where I am now," he said on Wednesday, ready to take up his post as the most experienced Springbok flyhalf in history once again.
And while so many were eager to get rid of the second highest points-scorer in Springbok and Super Rugby history, if it wasn’t for the Bok coach, Steyn may have never regained his confidence and fought his way back into the starting line-up.
He credits Meyer for this change, and believes if it wasn’t for the way things turned out, he may have packed it in.
"That’s why I have so much respect for coach Heyneke.
"He started playing me in 2003 behind Derick Hougaard, and last year when he left me out for those few games, it was definitely the right decision at the time," Steyn said.
"As a player you always want to play but he made a tough decision and a good one, and it worked out.
"That’s what makes him such a good coach."
As the Pumas surprisingly held the Boks to a draw last year, the inability for the Boks to adapt was a symptom that plagued them for the rest of the season.
And now that they meet again, with the Pumas likely to be stronger, better prepared and keen for an upset, the Boks are not underestimating them at all. The key will be to ensure the Boks play the game in the right areas of the field, something that didn’t happen in Mendoza.
“They’re a quality side, so we won’t underestimate them again. We know we have to pitch up and if we’re not at our best, it will be a long day for us,” Steyn says.
“I think our kicking game wasn’t perfect that game. We played too much in our own half. We need to keep them in their own half and keep them there.”
Either way, an on-form Steyn is an asset for the Boks, no matter what his critics say. And if he can get good ball from the forwards and show some of the form from Super Rugby, the Boks will be halfway to their goal.