Boks won't 'throw Morne away'
Youngster Johan Goosen is still the favourite to start against Australia at Loftus Versfeld this week, but Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer has made it clear he won’t be “throwing Morne Steyn away”.
There have been a load of emotional calls to drop Steyn this season, and the Bok pivot is not enjoying a good run of late, hitting rock bottom in Dunedin against the All Blacks when he left 11 points on the board with kicks in a game the Boks could and should have won.
The Boks have spent a lot of time and effort trying to delve into the problems that Steyn is currently experiencing.
Without the rock-solid guidance of Fourie du Preez inside him, he has struggled with his kicking, while this season he has tried to run the ball more, with mixed results.
While the service he has received at halfback hasn’t always been great, Steyn is going through a difficult time, with his goalkicking struggling as a result, and placing even more pressure on the player.
The Boks clearly believe the challenge is to get him back to top form, and have already done a lot of work behind the scenes in addressing the mental fatigue problems the player has at the moment.
Technically, his kicking is spot on and while he has been lambasted by the public, the problem is not with his technique. But after three years of non-stop rugby, Steyn faces a mental battle at the moment, one which has been compounded by the vitriol he has faced this season in the Bok jersey.
While it is clear Goosen is the rising star in the team, and is likely to take the number 10 spot, it leaves coach Meyer in a quandary. To release Steyn back to Currie Cup rugby won’t help as he will join a team under pressure and struggle once again. What the player definitely needs is a mental break from the game, but one which is unlikely to happen right now.
But it is also clear that to play him through this problem may do more harm than good, and the Bok management is acutely aware of the need for a fine balancing act in this situation.
Meyer admitted he wasn’t able to “give Steyn a break” as he would have wanted to, and as national coach has little say over how the provinces will manage the players once they leave his control.
But he did promise that Steyn would be given the attention he needs to get him through this rough patch.
“Obviously you want to give guys a break, but the policy as it stands in South Africa at the moment is that if he doesn’t play the test, he will play Currie Cup rugby, so he would have played anyway,” Meyer explained.
“We have to look at how we manage our players, and I have to look at that as well. We do look at all these things, and it is the best for Morne to be involved in the squad at the moment.
“I know there is a lot of criticism directed at him, but we’re still talking about a human being. I don’t think it would be wise to throw a guy away and think he will come back stronger. That simply doesn’t work.
“It’s great to have him in the group, especially with Goosen not 100% fit. He is an experienced player and already seeing him back at home he is better.”
Meyer said he hadn’t taken a final decision on the composition of Saturday’s team just yet, but he was encouraged by the way the players in the squad were helping Steyn through the rough patch.
“That’s not in my hands. If you send him back to Currie Cup, the Bulls are also under pressure, so that pressure never goes away,” Meyer added.
“I must make a decision before Saturday and I haven’t made that decision yet. I will make the right decision for the team. One thing that people haven’t taken into account - I always say - ask the players. There is a great vibe in the camp and the players around him really look after him well. There is that family environment. I’m not the type of coach to simply throw a player away.
“I still think Morne didn’t play badly, he just kicked badly and he knows he is playing below par. We will get him right.”
Meyer also defended himself from criticism over the handling of Elton Jantjies, saying he was always part of the Bok plans, and Elton wasn’t selected because Meyer didn't bow to public pressure.
“You are always under pressure and if I bowed to public pressure, I would change the team every week. You can’t change the team every week.
“If you look at the stats, Steve Hansen has been with the All Blacks for 100 tests, with Richie McCaw there for 90, Robbie Deans has just broken the record for coaching Australia and the Argentinean coach has been there for four years. I’ve been here for seven weeks.
“Just to change the team every week smacks of wishful thinking and hoping you pick the right players. Elton was there from day one and we were only allowed to take 26 players and Patrick (Lambie) can also cover 10.
“We’ve always had a plan with him, but again, you can’t just throw a 20-year-old into the team and play him against the All Blacks, you will get slaughtered. We’ve got long term plans for every single guy in the squad.”
Either way if Goosen is fit, it is unlikely that Meyer can ignore his claims any longer. Steyn will need to find a way through the impasse, he is a much too valuable player to simply throw away.
But it is also clear that at the moment he is not at his best, and Meyer needs to put the team ahead of loyalty.