The Boks just marking time with rigid Steyn in the pocket
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.