Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer will continue to rely on Morne Steyn as his flyhalf as the South Africans head into a daunting Rugby Championship Test against New Zealand in Dunedin on Saturday.
While Steyn seems to have his goal-kicking boots back on these days, his tendency to stand so deep on attack literally puts his backline on the back foot and the Springboks’ attacking efforts thus far in the competition have been timid in comparison to those of the mighty All Blacks.
Meyer has resisted the temptation to start with the 20-year-old Johan Goosen and there are good arguments to support his decision.
Throwing a baby (in international terms) into the cauldron of Test rugby in New Zealand, with your pack most probably going backwards and Richie McCaw, Kieran Read and Liam Messam running at you, could be catastrophic: both in the short-term (the match) and the long-term (Goosen’s overall confidence).
Never mind only owning one cap and seven or eight minutes of Test experience, Goosen has played less than an hour of rugby in the last four months thanks to the shoulder injury that ended his hugely promising SuperRugby campaign.
But in the short time that he was on the field in Perth, Goosen hit the line and beat defenders well, and we can only hope Meyer gives him even more game time this weekend – as Steyn, frankly, is not providing any spark or linking particularly well with his backline.
Pat Lambie has his supporters for the flyhalf position, but the Sharks talent has started just a single Test at number 10 before, last July in Wellington against the All Blacks, and that did not go well, the Springboks getting thumped 40-7 with a second-string side.
Game management/control is the one area of his play that Lambie still needs to work on (the Sharks preferred Freddie Michalak at flyhalf in SuperRugby) and it seems the 21-year-old’s role at international level at the moment will be limited to that of substitute.
Meyer has made two changes to the team that lost so disappointingly against Australia last weekend, both of them amongst the forwards.
Eben Etzebeth has been suspended for a feeble headbutt and Flip van der Merwe takes his place. Let’s hope the Bulls lock doesn’t see yellow.
The other change will add some much-needed pace and pressure on the ball. Although the Test is in New Zealand and an Arctic front has brought snow, high wind, sleet and rain to Dunedin, the match is being played in the Forsyth Barr Stadium, which has an enclosed roof.
As Meyer himself pointed out, it will be a bit like playing on a clear winter’s day in Pretoria, and that will suit the All Blacks’ fast-paced game perfectly. The Springboks will be in serious trouble if they don’t find a way to slow down their opposition’s ball, and Francois Louw has been brought into the starting line-up to do just that.
There are also changes to the bench, with Juan de Jongh called up to hopefully provide some much-needed attacking verve in midfield.
Dean Greyling, who can play both sides, is the reserve prop because of the uncertainty over the fitness of both tightheads in the squad, Jannie du Plessis and Pat Cilliers.
Critics of the Springboks’ recent form will be angry that Meyer has still not started on the road to adding a greater attacking dimension to his team. But the All Blacks on home turf are perhaps not the side you want to be facing when you’re setting out on a journey.
Besides, no one will be surprised that Meyer, who would call his conservatism continuity, has once again relied on what has served him well in the past.
The Springboks’ best chance of getting back on track is probably back home when they take on Australia at Loftus Versfeld on 29 September.
15-Zane Kirchner, 14-Bryan Habana, 13-Jean de Villiers, 12-Francois Steyn, 11-Francois Hougaard, 10-Morne Steyn, 9-Ruan Pienaar, 8-Duane Vermeulen, 7-Willem Alberts, 6-Francois Louw, 5-Juandre Kruger, 4-Flip van der Merwe, 3-Jannie du Plessis, 2-Adriaan Strauss, 1-Tendai Mtawarira. Substitutes – 16-Tiaan Liebenberg, 17-Dean Greyling, 18-Andries Bekker, 19-Marcell Coetzee, 20-Johan Goosen, 21-Juan de Jongh, 22-Pat Lambie.