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PORT ELIZABETH: Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer says misfiring flyhalf Morné Steyn “is a warrior” who will regain his goal-kicking form ahead of the upcoming Rugby Championship.
While the Boks were largely inaccurate and unable to make much of an impact in Saturday night’s 14-14 draw against England at a wet and blustery Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, they would still have won the game and secured a 3-0 whitewash series victory had Steyn not missed three out of his six kicks at goal.
The PE crowd booed him late in the match after an attempted drop goal went wide, and again for a poor tactical kick.
While the swirling wind and rain made conditions difficult for the goal-kickers, the two missed penalties and the conversion of JP Pietersen’s try amount to eight points. And even if England had slotted the penalty and conversion which were off-target by Toby Flood in the first half, the Boks would still have won by three points if Steyn had to maintain a 100% record.
His 50% tally in PE continues a worrying trend of missed goal-kicks. The Bulls pivot landed only five out of eight in Johannesburg last week, while he had a satisfactory four-of-six return in the first Test in Durban. He was a sharpshooter in most of his previous 36 Tests and is arguably only picked ahead of Patrick Lambie at No 10 for his superior goal-kicking.
But Meyer is still backing his man. “Listen, Morné is a warrior. He knows he is not playing ... Although I thought during the previous two games, he played really well,” the Bok mentor said after the match. “It’s just his kicking that is not there, and he has high standards. I know Morné, and worked with him for quite some time, and he has standards and will be back stronger. He’s now got three games at Super Rugby level to get it right.
“He knows we need him in the Rugby Championship. I have full confidence in him, and it’s not a question about him not working hard. He really works hard. He is just not striking the ball the way he is used to.”
Meyer admitted that he did think of relieving Steyn of the goal-kicking duties with replacement scrumhalf Ruan Pienaar. “I thought about that, when Ruan came on. But I don’t think that would’ve made a difference,” he said. “We didn’t play well. It was always going to be a 50-50 game once it started raining, and like I said, we didn’t adapt well to the conditions. Obviously goal-kicking is much more difficult in these conditions, but it is the same for both sides.”
Lions No 10 Elton Jantjies was in line to make his Test debut off the bench, and his game-breaking abilities and sound tactical and goal-kicking boot could’ve made a difference to the Bok effort in the second half. But Meyer felt that he didn’t want to throw the youngster into such a pressure situation.
“I thought that this was always going to be a 50-50 game right from the start, and at one stage, we already decided that Ruan would take over the kicking. We were so thin on experience in the forwards – with four of the guys having played two Test matches – so getting another youngster on at that stage under huge pressure ...
“I wanted to keep Morné on the field, because I didn’t think that he played badly. It was just his tactical kicking that wasn’t good enough.”
Meyer said that his relatively inexperienced pack found it difficult to adapt to the wet conditions, and that the wily English forwards made life uncomfortable for the Boks at the breakdowns. The Bok coach felt that it had an effect on scrumhalf Francois Hougaard’s game, as England disrupted the Bulls No 9 at the base of the rucks.
But Hougaard was indecisive throughout, and the lack of urgency when attempting box-kicks was alarming. He took wrong options most of the time and placed Steyn under unnecessary pressure. “It’s no use making any excuses – I thought that they had a great game, and we didn’t adapt well to the conditions. These guys need to learn – a lot of them haven’t played in these conditions at Test-match level,” Meyer said.
“I thought Hougie was dangerous as a runner, and he still needs to learn how to play in the wet conditions. The reason why I put Ruan on was that I wanted him to take control, as he is used to playing in these conditions for Ulster and has a good kicking game. So, I don’t think Hougie played badly – it was just a question of getting a guy on who’s kicking game is his strength.”
“We were disappointed not to take advantage of the yellow card (to England captain Dylan Hartley). We didn’t get momentum. I thought that at stages of the game, we looked dangerous when we got momentum. Obviously if it’s wet, you need to play closer to each other and a little more conservative. Again, England showed in both Test matches that they are a quality side, and they defend with a lot of heart.”