Goosen to start against Australia
He’s been called the “future of South African rugby” and finally on Saturday, flyhalf prodigy Johan Goosen will make his first start in a Springbok jersey in the Castle Rugby Championship match against Australia.
Goosen, who at the tender age of 20 has taken South African rugby by storm, was part of a team unveiled by coach Heyneke Meyer that will showcase the young talent in the position – with Elton Jantjies on the bench to wait for his first cap as well at Loftus Versfeld.
What Meyer did was a massive call – dropping the most experienced Bok flyhalf and holder of several world records, Morne Steyn – but also the right call after a poor run of form that has seen Steyn lose his self-confidence and accuracy with his kicking boot.
Considering it was Steyn’s home ground of Loftus, the Bok coach did what was right for the team and made a few other interesting changes that would also have raised eyebrows.
For one, Jaco Taute’s sudden elevation into the match 22 – ahead of Juan de Jongh – and consequent bracketing with the injured Frans Steyn, is an interesting call, but no doubt brought about by Meyer’s desire to have a big ball-carrier in the midfield if Steyn is ruled out.
Chances are that he will be, as on Wednesday when he started to run again, the midfielder injured the same ankle he rolled on Monday, and was immediately hauled off the field. He will now undergo a final test on Friday.
If not, Taute will make his debut at 13, a position he has excelled in at Super Rugby and Currie Cup, but not his favoured position of 15. If Steyn is fit, Taute is retained on the bench, with De Jongh losing out in that case.
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There was also the return to the starting line-up of Andries Bekker and Eben Etzebeth, the Stormers duo who were picked because of their combination in the lineouts. Etzebeth returns from his two-week suspension and replaces Flip van der Merwe, who is desperately unlucky to lose his place after his Dunedin performance.
EXCITING ERA BEGINS
Meyer has been consistent in bringing in Goosen slowly. The decision, according to team sources, was made in Australia already and hastened by Steyn’s departure of form. Still, it may herald one of the most exciting eras in Bok rugby with the Bloemfontein Bok possibly the most exciting prospect to be selected in years.
And while the rise of a new star was being celebrated, much of the talk came about the demise of the old star, Morne Steyn.
Meyer said it was a tough call to drop Morne, but one he felt was for the good of the team, and the player involved. He admitted it was a tough call to make.
“It is difficult to select every team and the one against England was the toughest (to select) because you don't know to expect from the guys until you see them under pressure in battle,” Meyer explained.
“But obviously you've referred to Morne and it was a very difficult decision. I always said I will do what is best for the team and then individuals, and it was especially tough to make the call with the game at Loftus.
“So it was a big call. But Morne is a true champion and he accepted it graciously. He has put his body on the line for his country for the last three or four years and he won a lot of games that we could have lost if he didn't kick well.
“I just feel that it is the best interests for Morne and the team that he doesn't play. The big question was to have two young players and especially with Frans Steyn not a 100% fit, I would have loved to have two experienced guys on both sides of the youngsters. But I have a lot of confidence in them as well.
“Morne is an unbelievable character and a champion and I know he will fight back.”
Meyer said there was a misconception that Johan Goosen would have to “fit in” to the game plan, where this was never the case.
“I think there is a misconception (about our structure), every player has the right to play a situation as he sees it,” Meyer said. “But it is tough when you are playing away from home in tough conditions. This is not Currie Cup rugby where there is more space and one gets more line breaks. But I have said to every player that he must go out there and be himself because they each bring something different.
“That said I think people have to be realistic because you cannot expect a 20 year-old to come in, win the game and score five tries, although I would love that.
“There is also a process for Johan. He has been involved from the outset and we had chats when he was injured. But it is great as a coach to have depth at flyhalf even though there is a long way to go before the next World Cup.”
Frans Steyn’s injury has put a damper on selection this week and Meyer has been keen to get him on the park. Despite the extra time, the consensus now seems to be that he may not be fit in time to play.
“It is such a crucial game and he is such an influential player, we will make a call after the captain's run on Friday. We were positive about him before training, but as he ran he hurt it (his
ankle) again,” he said.
“We have a great medical team but I will not play a guy that is not 100% fit. I have confidence in the other players and it is nice to have a lot of youngsters among the backs, especially with an eye on the future. It was a freak accident. He just felt it as he was running on Monday.”
Meyer went to lengths to explain why Taute had suddenly leap-frogged De Jongh in the midfield.
“The reason for that is because it is a big challenge and you don't want to go with a new No 10 and No 12 against one of the best teams in the world. So Jean will start at No 12 so we have two experienced guys alongside Johan and then Taute will play No 13. He played great rugby there in Super Rugby against some of the best players in the world,” Meyer explained.
“I haven't counted but I think there are more Western Province players in the squad than Bulls and the game is at Loftus Versfeld, which might be a strange thing for people to see. But I felt that Jaco would have been in the match 22 from day one, but unfortunately he was injured. He weighs 106kg and he runs a 100m sprint in 10,7 seconds. I also looked at the way Australia defends, so it was a case of horses for courses.
“It is tough on Juan, but I thought Jaco adds something different. Juan is brilliant on defence and he is unlucky.
“Juan runs great lines and he is also more of an impact player. I don't want to go into too much detail, but it is also better to have a new guy in the starting team because if he struggles, you can put the experienced player on.
“But if you start the game the other way around, if the youngster doesn't make it you cannot change back, so there were a few factors. But they are both quality players and I have faith in both of them.”
The Boks will go into the Loftus test with the weight of expectation as they have never lost to the Wallabies in Pretoria, but as exciting as the new era is with Goosen at the helm, it is also one fraught with risks.
However, at this stage there was simply no other way for Meyer to go, and now Goosen has his chance. It is up to him to settle in for the future and show the promise and belief that coaches and fans have in him.
SPRINGBOK TEAM (province and number of test caps in brackets):
15. Zane Kirchner (Vodacom Blue Bulls, 19), 14. Bryan Habana (DHL Western Province, 81), 13. Jean de Villiers (capt) (DHL Western Province, 79), 12. Frans Steyn / Jaco Taute (The Sharks / MTN Golden Lions, 53 / 0), 11. Francois Hougaard (Vodacom Blue Bulls, 22), 10. Johan Goosen (Toyota FS Cheetahs, 2), 9. Ruan Pienaar (Ulster, N-Ireland, 58), 8. Duane Vermeulen (DHL Western Province, 2), 7. Willem Alberts (The Sharks, 15), 6. Francois Louw (Bath, England, 12), 5. Andries Bekker (DHL Western Province, 27), 4. Eben Etzebeth (DHL Western Province, 6), 3. Jannie du Plessis (The Sharks, 37), 2. Adriaan Strauss (vice-captain) (Toyota FS Cheetahs, 16), 1. Tendai Mtawarira (The Sharks, 39).
Replacements: 16. Tiaan Liebenberg (DHL Western Province, 3), 17. Coenie Oosthuizen (Toyota FS Cheetahs, 1), 18. Flip van der Merwe (Vodacom Blue Bulls, 18), 19. Marcell Coetzee (The Sharks, 7), 20. Elton Jantjies (MTN Golden Lions, 0), 21. Jaco Taute / Juan de Jongh (MTN Golden Lions / DHL WP, 0 / 10), 22. Pat Lambie (The Sharks, 15).