The Boks just mark­ing time with rigid Steyn in the pocket

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THE SPRING­BOKS won last Satur­day but there were a few things that hap­pened both dur­ing the game and sub­se­quent to it that should be de­press­ing to those who’d like to see the team make real progress.

I’m not sure how many peo­ple picked it up, and I only did be­cause it was pointed out to me, but Morne Steyn’s first drop goal was kicked when the ref­eree’s arm was out sig­nalling penalty ad­van­tage. That meant that it was an op­por­tu­nity for the Boks to at­tack in the safety of know­ing that they’d come back for the place-kick at the posts if they didn’t score a try.

They were 15 me­tres out and should have gone for broke in the quest for five points. In­stead, Steyn dropped back into the pocket and slot­ted three points that he’d prob­a­bly have scored any­way from the kick­ing tee. That sums up the Bok mind­set at present. You can’t blame Steyn. He was just do­ing what he was se­lected to do, which was ac­cu­mu­late points through his boot while keep­ing mis­takes to a min­i­mum.

Talk­ing of Steyn keep­ing mis­takes down cues an Al­lis­ter Coet­zee com­ment that would, to some, have in­spired a sim­i­lar feel­ing of un­ease. I’m re­fer­ring to his re­sponse to a ques­tion about Steyn at the team an­nounce­ment press con­fer­ence in Umh­langa Rocks. The most im­por­tant thing, ac­cord­ing to Coet­zee and the words that stuck out, were “he does not make mis­takes in his chan­nel”.

I’m not sure how often you’d hear the All Black coaches talk up a fly­half they had se­lected on the ba­sis of his rel­a­tively clean er­ror-rate. We would more likely hear about X-fac­tor and the ques­tions he asks of the op­pos­ing de­fences.

Of course, Coet­zee’s com­ment could be seen as un­der­stand­able given that it was er­rors that cost the pre­vi­ous fly­half, El­ton Jan­tjies, his place. There is some­thing that con­tin­ues to nag, though, about Jan­tjies. That is his ap­par­ent in­abil­ity to trans­fer his good Su­per Rugby form with the Lions to in­ter­na­tional level, not per­haps down to the dif­fer­ent mes­sages given to him by his re­spec­tive coaches?

Some­how it is hard to imag­ine Lions men­tor Jo­han Ack­er­mann fo­cus­ing on mis­takes when in­volved in a one-on-one. With Coet­zee, you can imag­ine it be­ing the main em­pha­sis.

I can fully un­der­stand why Coet­zee has gone into sur­vival mode. He needed to win last week or his win per­cent­ages would have left him in a par­lous po­si­tion as he neared the end of his first year as coach.

But hav­ing seen the cy­cle re­peated so often over the 24 years since iso­la­tion ended for the Boks in 1992, the con­tin­u­ing and too often re­peated trend of go­ing back­wards into the past by em­brac­ing ul­tra- con­ser­va­tive philoso­phies to get out of a hole should be a con­cern for South African rugby that needs ad­dress­ing.

The assumption that be­cause a cer­tain player has kicked all the points in a match is also in need of some in­tropec­tion. Mean­ing that if an­other player was play­ing in the pivot po­si­tion, won’t the Boks per­haps have been bet­terequipped to score five-point­ers?

Aside from the odd kick through, the Boks looked in­ca­pable of scor­ing a try at Lof­tus. The prob­lem with Steyn is not that he kicks too much, and last week the Boks didn’t ac­tu­ally kick all that much. It is that he never ap­pears com­fort­able play­ing on the gain-line and thus ef­fec­tively handicaps the at­tack­ing po­ten­tial of the play­ers around him.

That is the heart of why, to me, the Boks will be mark­ing time for as long as Steyn is wear­ing the No 10, re­gard­less of how many goals he might kick. The ar­gu­ment was put to me the other day that I shouldn’t worry be­cause Steyn will only be there for a cou­ple of matches and then, when Han­dre Pol­lard re­turns next year, he’ll be for­got­ten.

My prob­lem though is what hap­pens to the play­ers around Steyn dur­ing the time they are play­ing with a fly­half who has a very dif­fer­ent play­ing style to the man they are likely to be go­ing for­ward with next year.

To re­fresh mem­o­ries, it was with Pol­lard run­ning flat and di­rect and ask­ing ques­tions of the All Black de­fence that the Boks last beat the Ki­wis in 2014. The play­ers around him were gal­vanised and sud­denly looked much more ef­fec­tive than they had pre­vi­ously, and the All Black coaches read­ily ad­mit­ted that his play­ing style brought a whole dif­fer­ent dy­namic to the Bok at­tack­ing po­ten­tial.

Un­for­tu­nately, Pol­lard ap­peared to regress when Heyneke Meyer went into his sur­vival mode and over- cor­rected to one-di­men­sional rugby af­ter the loss to Ja­pan at last year’s World Cup, but the Boks need a player more like him and less like Steyn if this phase of the build-up to the 2019 World Cup is go­ing to be about more than just mark­ing time.

There are play­ers who can do what Steyn does and then bring more, and it is by no means a closed and shut case that the Boks would have lost had Steyn not been wear­ing the No 10 at Lof­tus. I’d have cho­sen Jo­han Goosen at pivot, but I’d hap­pily have con­tin­ued with Jan­tjies see­ing that Lam­bie was at full­back and could have as­sumed the place- kick­ing re­spon­si­bil­i­ties. I’m sorry Coet­zee never tried that op­tion.

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