Johannesburg – The Springboks will scrum hard, drive from the line-out and fight for the ball on the ground. But it’s at the back, where Fourie du Preez and Morné Steyn will be tasked to direct everything the Boks do as they go in search of the four tries that will help set them up to – hopefully – bag the Rugby Championship title on Saturday.
Needing a minimum of four tries and denying the All Blacks a bonus point is what will be required by Heyneke Meyer’s team at Ellis Park if they’re to surpass their oldest foes, New Zealand, on the points table – and that means adopting a slightly more attacking mindset, starting with the halfbacks.
It will thus be up to the wise heads of Du Preez and Steyn to lead the way, with their decision-making with ball in hand set to be the key to whether the Boks rise to the occasion or not. Often regarded as kicking halfbacks, the two former Bulls players know each others’ game inside out and if Du Preez’s service is as slick and accurate as it’s been in his three appearances for the Boks this year, Steyn will have the perfect platform to get the best out of a back division itching to have a go.
The 50-time capped Steyn has copped a lot of flak in the past for a perceived lack of flair, but there’s no denying the Boks have been a far more threatening side in attack this year ... and Steyn’s got a lot to do with that. His kicking game is unquestioned, but now, with what the Boks need to achieve to win the championship, the flyhalf has an opportunity to also show he’s far more than a good kicker and ball-shifter.
Bok boss Meyer admits Steyn will be asked to take control of the game – like every flyhalf – but before that the pack will have to do their job. “We want to play positive rugby, but we first have to match the All Blacks’ kicking game, do the basics well and defend well,” said Meyer yesterday. “Everything starts at the breakdown ... the backline can’t play if there’s no quick ball.
“But we’ve worked hard on ensuring we get quick ball, and that’s improved a lot in the last year, and we’ve shown we can score tries. When you’re on the front foot and your flyhalf is playing flatter, spaces open up,” explained the Bok coach.
“Morné’s worked on his game and we’ve made a few tweaks and he’s certainly taking the ball flatter than before and attacking the line ... of course with Fourie there the ball’s also coming out quicker. So once that’s sorted out, then you can work on better running lines at No9 and 10 and create more options for your flyhalf. Morné’s obviously a key guy for us this weekend.”
Meyer, though, rightly points out playing flatter to the gain line, and thus more attackingly, depends on quick ruck ball. “It’s going to be a huge contest at the breakdowns, but we’ve planned well and now it’s about executing on the field. We’re going to have to stay focused and play second by second ... but we’re all very excited.”
As expected, Meyer has recalled Juandré Kruger in place of the suspended Flip van der Merwe, Bismarck du Plessis swaps places with Adriaan Strauss and JJ Engelbrecht will be given until tomorrow to prove he is over a quadriceps injury. Also, Franco van der Merwe could make his debut off the bench.
“Franco’s been walking around for a year and half not able to wear his blazer ... this is special for him,” said Meyer. “We need experience at No5.”
Zane Kirchner, Willie le Roux, JJ Engelbrecht/Jan Serfontein, Jean de Villiers (capt), Bryan Habana, Morné Steyn, Fourie du Preez, Duane Vermeulen, Willem Alberts, Francois Louw, Juandré Kruger, Eben Etzebeth, Jannie du Plessis, Bismarck du Plessis, Beast Mtawarira. Replacements: Adriaan Strauss, Gurthrö Steenkamp, Coenie Oosthuizen, Franco van der Merwe, Siya Kolisi, Ruan Pienaar, Pat Lambie, Jan Serfontein/Juan de Jongh