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Side Entry: Is Steyn really the Springbok back-up fly half?

2019-09-08 07:17

There are five reasons – the number of victories the Springboks have had in a 100% win season thus far – why this column idea should be stillborn.

But, in the spirit of searching for perfection with the Rugby World Cup just two weeks away, every man with an opinion and a keyboard is bound to voice it. Does Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus’ decision to play Frans Steyn at all costs balance his team’s bench?

At some level, one can see the attraction.

Steyn, like Os du Randt in the 2007 campaign, is the only member of his side who knows what it’s like to win a World Cup; is possessed with natural big-match temperament, whatever his shortcomings; still has an ability to land a penalty from a neighbouring stadium; and has been known to play well for a coach who shows him the necessary love.

Erasmus has shown Steyn nothing but love since he began courting him last year, making sure that the man who has averaged five tests a year in the past 12 years due to spats with administrators knows that he’s the ace in his pack.

This is despite the fact that the Steyn of 2019 – who is supposed to cover every position from fly half to fullback, but more realistically can play inside centre and the last line of defence – is no longer the powerful running, explosive kid he was all those years ago.

With the selection being a coach’s pick, clearly a place has to be found for Steyn in the match day 23, but the question is how to best use him.

Former Springbok fly half Butch James this week said he would start Steyn at inside centre instead of current incumbent Damian de Allende due to his willingness to distribute from that position (De Allende is supposed to be a wonderful passer of the ball, but he prefers running through people for some reason).

This would free up a spot for Elton Jantjies on the bench to come on and wreak his particular brand of passing havoc on an opposition whose limbs are weary with half an hour to go, and reprise his and starting fly half Handré Pollard’s cameos playing alongside each other towards the end of the games last year.

Conventional wisdom is that Jantjies’ array of short, inside and floated passes get no joy in the tighter confines of defensively alert teams at the beginning of a game, but may get some purchase as defences tire and spaces open up.

Erasmus sees things differently – he’d rather have Steyn on the bench to cover fly half, inside centre and possibly fullback, bringing composure to what can be a frenzied final quarter as teams seek to open up or close games.

That preference assumes two things – that Steyn can play fly half at test level and that the Boks will always be looking to close games when he comes on.

The truth is that Steyn, despite starting out as a fly half at school, has never proven beyond a shadow of doubt that he is a 10 and, at some stage during the World Cup, the Boks will need to chase in the region of 15 points in the final quarter to win.

The potential issue is less whether Steyn can be valuable in that chase as a replacement for De Allende at centre (there have been some good angled runs and offloads since he came back) than it is about the potential exposure of an untested fly half coming on for an injured Pollard for the last hour of the game.

But, like I’ve said, every man whose team doesn’t get to play on Saturday has big opinions about how the Boks should play these days. Erasmus can point to his teams having won all five of the games they’ve played as his defence.

Follow me on Twitter @simxabanisa

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November 10 2019