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Ken Borland

Meyer launches a new Springbok era

Posted on October 15, 2012 by Ken

Coach Heyneke Meyer on Wednesday launched a possible new era in Springbok rugby when he named 20-year-old Johan Goosen as the starting flyhalf for the Rugby Championship Test against Australia at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria on Saturday.

While Meyer will probably consider the selection a brave move, it was always the only sensible one with Morne Steyn suffering such an obvious loss of form and confidence.

Meyer, whose linguistic gymnastics in trying to deny Steyn is being rested or dropped amused the horde of journalists gathered for the team announcement at Montecasino, stressed that the prolific 28-year-old points-scorer was not being thrown into the wilderness.

“It was a very difficult decision, but I have to look after the team’s interests first and then the individual’s. Morne really wanted to play, especially at Loftus, his home ground, but he is a true champion and he took my decision gracefully. He has won a lot of games for his country, just the last few have not gone well. But Morne’s not someone you need to feel sorry for, he’s a fighter and he will come back stronger,” Meyer said.

Whether Steyn will be able to add to his 41 Test caps and 486 points – the second-most for the Springboks – will depend on how well Goosen and Elton Jantjies, who is on the bench on Saturday, take their chances.

Meyer did suggest that his long-term vision revolves around the two youngsters taking South Africa through to the 2015 World Cup.

“It’s great that going forward to the World Cup – and I know there’s still a long way to go – we have such depth at flyhalf. Johan has always been in the mix since day one, but it’s been a process with him. I feel he is now ready to start a Test for South Africa and I’m excited to see what he can bring.

“As far as Elton goes, we know how strong his kicking game is and I would not put a player in the 22-man squad if I did not have full confidence in him,” Meyer said.

Jantjies, despite being in and around the Springbok squad since 2010, is yet to play a Test and there is a good chance a second debutant will be in action in Pretoria in Jaco Taute.

Inside centre Francois Steyn has been battling a twisted ankle all week and then he aggravated the injury trying to run on Wednesday, and Taute has been earmarked to take his place in midfield if the 2007 World Cup winner does not pass a fitness test on Friday.

But Meyer is rightly concerned about having debutants at 10 and 12 and confirmed on Wednesday that if Frans Steyn is unable to play, then captain Jean de Villiers will shift back to his more accustomed position at inside centre and Taute will slot in at number 13.

“I don’t want new caps at both 10 and 12, so Jean will play 12 if Frans doesn’t make it. Jaco played some great rugby at outside centre in SuperRugby, he would have been in my 22 from day one if he wasn’t injured and he’s 106kg and can run 100m in 10.7 seconds,” Meyer said.

There will be some, especially in the Western Cape, who will be unhappy that Taute has seemingly leapfrogged Juan de Jongh, who was bracketed with the Lions player on the bench.

“It’s tough on Juan, he’s brilliant on defence and he runs great lines. But I looked at the way Australia defend and I went for horses-for-courses with Jaco. It’s also easier if the new guy starts because if he struggles, then you can bring the more experienced guy on and Juan is a very good impact player,” Meyer explained.

Even though locks Flip van der Merwe and Juandre Kruger were brilliant in Dunedin, they have both been demoted, with Van der Merwe at least finding a place on the bench. Again, Meyer said it was a horses-for-courses selection as Eben Etzebeth and Andries Bekker were announced as the starting locks for the Pretoria Test.

“All the locks are sticking up their hands and we’re building great depth there, so it was a tough call. Flip van der Merwe had probably his best game ever for the Springboks and Juandre Kruger was very good too.

“Against the All Blacks, you want locks that play more to the ball and Flip and Juandre were superb at the rucks. But Australia are very good in the lineout, they will put us under pressure there, and one of Bekker’s other strengths is that, in a more open game, he has the ability to pitch up at centre or on the wing,” Meyer said.

It means the Springboks are going into the Loftus Versfeld Test with their tallest possible lineout and an all-Stormers trio of jumpers with Duane Vermeulen at eighthman. Tiaan Liebenberg is also the reserve hooker.

But it is the highly-rated Goosen who will be under the most scrutiny and Springbok vice-captain Adriaan Strauss, his captain at the Free State Cheetahs, is confident the youngster is going to handle the expectation with aplomb.

“It’s great to see Johan get an opportunity, even though Morne Steyn is an exceptional player. He might be a bit nervous when he’s in the moment, but I don’t think it will get the better of him. As I told him, if there’s one player I’ve seen who can handle pressure, it’s Johan. It’s his best attribute,” Strauss said.

Meyer also promised that Goosen will be able to take the attack to the Wallabies as he is wont to do with the Cheetahs.

“Every player is encouraged to play the situation as they see it, I say to every player that he must just be himself because that’s why I chose him. But there’s always going to be more space and line-breaks at Currie Cup level, so the public mustn’t expect too much,” Meyer said.

The public will be eager for Goosen to make a rapid impression. But it will be even more important for the Springboks just to win, in whatever fashion. And then all will be well again in South African rugby.


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