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Stephen Nell | Columnist Index
Stephen Nell is a rugby writer based in Cape Town and works primarily for the Die Burger newspaper. He has been contributing to ESPNscrum since 2005.
South Africa Comment
Springboks run the risk
Stephen Nell
August 6, 2012
South Africa fly-half Morne Steyn reflects on defeat, South Africa v Australia, Rugby World Cup quarter-final, Wellington Stadium, Wellington, New Zealand, October 9, 2011
How long will Morne Steyn retain the faith of South Africa coach Heyneke Meyer? © PA Photos
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If a player is only as good as his last game, Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer's vote of confidence in fly-half Morné Steyn is a significant risk going into the Rugby Championship.

Steyn was mediocre in the series against England and even struggled with his goalkicking, succeeding only with 12 out of 22 attempts. He also had a shocker in his most recent match for the Bulls in their Super Rugby play-off defeat to the Crusaders in Christchurch.

But it's on past glories that Steyn has received his coach's backing. He has been judged on the long-range penalty that clinched a series against the British & Irish Lions, and the 31 points that he scored in a Bok victory over the All Blacks in 2009.

Considering that his name will feature prominently in the annals of Bok rugby, Steyn deserves to be treated with respect rather than the jeering he got from the crowd in the last Test against England in Port Elizabeth.

But he will have two matches against Argentina in which he has to produce. If not, Meyer will be considering alternatives for the Boks' matches against the tougher assignments against Australia and New Zealand.

Meyer's problem is rooted in the fact that his immediate choices of alternatives all lack experience. Elton Jantjies has impressed at the Lions, but is yet to play in a Test. The Bok coach also believes that Patrick Lambie is more suited to playing fullback.

Stormers fly-half Peter Grant may also have been an option given a goalkicking success ratio of in excess of 90%, but does not fetch massive distances with his boot. Another factor militating against him returning to the Bok fold is that he plies his trade in Japan.

As for a long-term option, there is much hope that gifted Cheetahs pivot Johan Goosen will play many Tests for South Africa in years to come. Meyer spoke of him as a match-winner on the weekend and he is likely to come into the Bok mix once he has recovered from injury early in September.

A move that may well take the pressure off Steyn in terms of decision-making is the promotion of Ruan Pienaar over Francois Hougaard at scrum-half. Pienaar is a superior kicker and decision-maker. Interestingly, he would probably be South Africa's best alternative in the No.10 jersey, but he prefers playing behind the scrum and has a lot more to offer there.

Scrum-half was always going to be a problem in the era after Fourie du Preez and we are possibly seeing a domino effect. It's a blessing then that South Africa are kicking off their campaign against Argentina. While the South Americans deserve to be treated with respect, these games do offer a less pressured environment in which Steyn can hopefully play himself into form.

 
"The Springboks' execution for the best part was not particularly good and it's also a bad sign when a team is so susceptible to conceding tries from tap penalties."
 

No such courtesies will be extended by the All Blacks and Wallabies.

Meyer's game plan will also be put to the test in the Rugby Championship. There were glimpses of good execution in the second Test against England, with the Boks dominating the collisions in a decisive first half. However, their execution for the best part was not particularly good and it's also a bad sign when a team is so susceptible to conceding tries from tap penalties.

Yet the impressive glimpses we got promised much, even though dominating the collisions and advantage line to such an extent relies on physical dominance. So what happens if the Boks are matched in that respect by the All Blacks?

Meyer will be helped a great deal by there being more time to prepare than there was against the English. It's not ideal that the Sharks have joined the squad late following the Super Rugby final, but at least there is breathing space this time.

There is also an interesting call to be made at eighthman. Pierre Spies has never quite lived up to the hype, but Ryan Kankowski is not an option given that he is another Japan-based Bok. Might Meyer decide to pick Keegan Daniel in an all-Sharks loose forward combination with Marcell Coetzee and Willem Alberts? If Pienaar is promoted to scrum-half, it may well be the best way to go considering that he is a former Shark and the Boks need to find cohesion.

All in all, it's no surprise that the squad of 30 have been picked for the first two Tests only. There are question marks behind a few senior players, while there are both experienced Boks and youngsters who will come into the reckoning.

Stormers No.8 Duane Vermeulen is considered the long-term solution at No.8, while versatile Cheetahs prop Coenie Oosthuizen should also be back early in September. Then there are the likes of wing Bjorn Basson, flank Heinrich Brüssow and prop CJ van der Linde who are presently crocked. Schalk Burger will probably still be out for a while, as will his long-time Bok flank colleague Juan Smith.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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