Cape Town – Springbok flyhalf Morné Steyn will play in his 50th Test against the Wallabies at a packed Newlands on Saturday.
We asked three of South Africa’s leading flyhalves from the past – Naas Botha, Errol Tobias and Joel Stransky – what they thought of the 29-year-old Stade Francais pivot, who is the most-capped Bok No 10 and is just two points away from 600 in Test rugby.
What is your favourite Morné Steyn kick?
Naas Botha: That one against the British Lions definitely. That is the most important one. That is now where you use an opportunity that someone gave you – sometimes you get one and you don’t make use of it. That is why he has reached 50 Test caps and done so well. Morné won that Test for us and indirectly that Test series too.
There were many other fine kicks, but overall, he can at least look back at a number of Tests and know that he made his contribution again and again for South Africa.
Every player has to deal with criticism, but just one thing is that we all have to go through it if things aren’t going so well.
But that’s the nice thing about sport – everybody rides along, shouts along and cheers along. I look at his total package that he brings to the table, and it has been absolutely fantastic what he has done for South African rugby.
Errol Tobias: Firstly, he didn’t have his best year in 2012, especially with his foot – it does happen in a kicker’s career. But this year he is again spot-on. The one special kick was that one against the Lions, which was two minutes into injury time.
I see he has his confidence back when he is lining up for a kick, which is vital for a goal-kicker.
He is believing in himself again, you can see it in the manner in which he is striking the ball. It is wonderful for the Springboks to have such a good kicker on Saturday who is on form.
He scored all the points in a Test against the All Blacks and England, and kickers get those kinds of games where you can say Morné Steyn beat the All Blacks and England.
He’s experienced some beautiful moments with his kicking, and it was good for the nation. He certainly carries the mantle of top kickers who have come through South African rugby. He is one of the outstanding goal-kickers in world rugby at the moment.
Joel Stransky: It’s lovely that you are doing this feature, he deserves it.
The one to win the Lions series is obviously the one that stands out for everyone. It was a very long kick under enormous pressure, and he was cool, calm and collected.
For me, I think he is so much more than just a kicking flyhalf.
Three qualities that make Morné special
Naas Botha: The big thing is those kicks under pressure. I think that is his outstanding feature – his goal-kicking is of such a nature that if an opponent makes a mistake, he pays for it.
Overall, I just think he is a good flyhalf. There are a few questions at times about where he is sharp enough tactically in his game, and I feel sorry for him in that regard as I think flyhalves these days aren’t really given the opportunity to show their tactical appreciation for the game.
It is more pattern-based, and you must do certain things that are in the playing pattern.
There isn’t really a chance for a flyhalf to stamp his authority on the game. And sometimes Morné is unfairly criticised, because it is very clear that another decision should’ve been made in a particular situation.
Then you realise again that it’s just the coaches who decide what must be done (on the field), and the players must just carry it out.
Rather then give him the compliment that the things he is told to do, he is absolutely brilliant at that.
Errol Tobias: He has an excellent feeling for spreading the ball. The other quality is his goal-kicking. And then another good thing he does is his high kicks, which he executes perfectly.
If there are a few areas in which he can and must improve, it would be the attacking chip kick and attacking grubber. He doesn’t execute those kicks properly yet.
Then I would also like to see him run with more speed on to the ball and confront the advantage line more often. Those are the two things he doesn’t do. But in all the other aspects, he does it very well.
It’s good for the Boks to have him in the team, and I just hope that he doesn’t sustain an injury or something like Carter, because New Zealand have a lot of depth and didn’t even feel Daniel Carter’s absence. The worry is just how will the Boks perform if Morné had to be injured?
Joel Stransky: Obviously out of hand and at goal, he kicks the ball sublimely – he is a great kicker of the ball. And the sign of a good player is one who appears to have time on the ball, and when Morné is in form, he always looks to have a lot of time on the ball.
And I think when he is playing that running game and is confident, and he’s got players around him who help him to play the running game, he attacks the gainline pretty well and sucks in defenders. He does play quite flat at times.
And he’s never really had any defensive frailties. He’s been a bloody good player. There are times when he has taken the ball to the line superbly, and when he’s done that, he’s brought in a lot of defenders.
For any halfback too, you are only as good as the ball you get, and when he’s got good ball, he’s been superb.
Is it a myth that Morné is A kicking flyhalf?
Naas Botha: Look, you can’t say that because he is playing according to the pattern. Then he is being coached to be a kicking flyhalf by a kicking coach. That is the Bulls pattern and that’s it – I’ve said how many times that many of the players get criticised for certain things.
Wynand Olivier got a lot of criticism for putting the ball under his arms, but it was the pattern that his coaches wanted him to play.
The Bulls do score tries with Morné at flyhalf, so that’s why I say: what does being a kicking flyhalf mean?
But it’s you Capetonians who blame everybody! It’s you Capetonians who just blame us Bulls – saying we can just do this and that, and then we just tell you guys ‘Just look at the scoreboard’!
Many players are unfairly criticised – especially in the new era of rugby, playing patterns play a much bigger role than in the past. In the past, players were allowed to make their own decisions on the field.
Errol Tobias: Why people make the statement that he is more of a kicking flyhalf is because he hasn’t really played attacking rugby at the highest level in Test rugby. That is where every player is measured. I was chosen as an attacker and I made tries and scored a few.
Now that Morné hasn’t quite done that at Test level, he will have such tags. He must get out of the blocks quicker.
Joel Stransky: Obviously once again he has become a kicking flyhalf. But I think in the last couple of games under Heyneke, he is trying to expand it a little bit more. He has certainly shown that there is more to his game.
I’m thinking about four years ago when the Bulls were winning Super Rugby tournaments and scoring tries, there was a period there when Morné played unbelievable running rugby.
I think the national coaching team then went back to a bit of a kicking game and I think he regressed back to becoming much more of a conservative kicking flyhalf.
What didn’t help him was that there was a period where he didn’t play well away from home.
But for me, he’s always been pretty much a complete footballer. He has a huge amount to offer and is not always given credit for what he has to offer. He is thoroughly deserving of his 50 Tests.
*Top 10 Bok points-scorers
893: Percy Montgomery, 598: Morné Steyn (8 tries, 81 conversions, 122 penalties, 6 drop goals), 312: Naas Botha, 255: Bryan Habana, 240: Joel Stransky, 221: Braam van Straaten
190: Joost van der Westhuizen, 181: Jannie de Beer, 171: André Pretorius, 160: Jaque Fourie.
*Most-capped Bok flyhalves
Morné Steyn (48 at flyhalf, 1 at fullback), Butch James (37 at flyhalf, 4 at centre, 1 at fullback), André Pretorius (29 at flyhalf, 2 at fullback), Henry Honiball (27 at flyhalf, 7 at centre, 1 at wing), Naas Botha (28 at flyhalf), Piet Visagie (25 at flyhalf), Jaco van der Westhuyzen (24 at flyhalf, 7 at fullback, 1 at centre), Joel Stransky (22, 21 at flyhalf, 1 at centre), Keith Oxlee (19 at flyhalf), Louis Koen (15 at flyhalf), Ruan Pienaar (13 at flyhalf, 44 at scrumhalf, 10 at fullback, 3 at wing), Braam van Straaten (13 at flyhalf and 8 at centre)