Johannesburg - Springbok flyhalf Morne Steyn’s 18 point haul was possibly the best news for Allister Coetzee’s coaching team that they could have taken out of the Loftus Versfeld test match at the weekend.
According to the SuperSport website, Steyn – old faithful in the Bok line-up – stepped up and answered an SOS, took control of the game and scored all the Springboks’ points as they lumbered to the 18-10 win over Australia in less than spectacular form.
But those who were quickly writing off the Springboks’ chances against the All Blacks this week were missing the point of exactly what Coetzee did to change the team’s fortunes against an Australian side that were playing with a lot more confidence than the Springboks.
While the win may not have been sparkling, impressive or the “running rugby” so often clambered for by the public nowdays, it was a victory - one that may well turn out to be way more important than anything else Allister Coetzee and his staff have achieved this season.
Backs-to-the-wall, the Boks made a number of telling decisions – from Pat Lambie at 15, to Rudy Paige’s crisp service at 9, and they went back to their banker – Steyn – to get them out of the hole they were in.
Steyn’s ability to answer the call at short notice is in itself a rare feat. The Bok pivot has been written off and chased away by fans across the spectrum, but has a simple motto, keeps on working hard and waiting for a chance.
And it wasn’t difficult to admit that despite his limitations – Steyn was the perfect fit for a Bok team with their backs against the wall. Classy under conditions he so often thrived in while in South Africa, Steyn answered the call to the Boks’ relief.
And while it was criticised so heavily throughout the week, the selection of Lambie at the back added some much needed strength to the backline – especially in terms of defensive communication.
Michael Cheika admitted it himself – for 70 metres the Wallabies found holes, but in the red zone they struggled harder than they have ever before.
For the first time under Coetzee the defensive shape was a more aligned, more functioning as a unit and those holes that were apparent overseas seemed to close up a lot quicker.
Steyn’s ongoing resolve, his determination to do the best for his country, no matter how many times he has been written off, is a lesson going forward.
Not only is there more than one way to win a game, but the need to write players off after a poor performance is something we do way too often.
“I hadn’t started in a long time and there were some mistakes‚ but I’m happy‚" Steyn said. “It was special for me when I heard I was going to start at Loftus. It was a good training week and I felt ready.
“It’s not always that easy to stay motivated when you’re sitting on the bench or sitting next to the field in your No 1s.
“But to be part of the team and of the Springboks is still an amazing privilege‚ which is why I keep going.
“I don’t know if I’ll still be playing test rugby in two or three years. Handré Pollard is coming back and Pat Lambie is back from injury.
“I still want to play but at this stage I have to take it game by game. Actually I have to take it minute by minute.”
This week Steyn will have the confidence to continue in his role, but whether Paige or Francois Hougaard will be his halfback partner still awaits to be seen.
And as Steyn himself admits, he knows he may be a short-term stop gap until the return of Pollard or Lambie’s return to form.
But given the problems the Boks have had with composure, and with decision-making over the season under the up and down play of Faf de Klerk and Elton Jantjies, the Boks will keep their faith in the Steyn, Lambie axis, hoping that the defensive composure and a dollup of confidence from the victory can translate into a meaningful game against the All Blacks.
Coetzee’s management will know all too well the enormity of the task facing them this weekend against the World Champions. But Steyn managed to give them something they’ve struggled with.
Arriving in Durban with confidence, a little more comfort in the way they play and a basis to work from ahead of a enormous challenge.
Read the story on SuperSport