at the Union Buildings in Pretoria
We may be months away from the first Test match of the year, but Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer will already be thinking of the make-up of his side and if current Super Rugby form is taken into account he’ll no doubt be wondering how he is going to fit Frans Steyn into his team.
There may not be an obvious opening in the Bok backline for the big Sharks man, but somehow, somewhere, Steyn has to play Test rugby again.
In the three Super Rugby games the Sharks have played this season, Steyn has been back to his best, be it at centre or flyhalf, where he played at short notice on Saturday. He has trimmed down, looks confident and is playing as well as ever. His accurate goal-kicking and line-kicking against the Lions were top-notch and he showed he’s a must for the Boks.
Steyn’s performance on Saturday played a large part in the Sharks making it three from three this season as the men from Durban ran out comfortable bonus-point winners over the Lions. Jake White’s men scored four very well-worked tries and, even though the Lions hit back in the second half to come within a few points of their hosts, there was never any doubt about who would win.
The Sharks have power, strength, skill and depth in all areas; the Lions have heart – but that’s not enough to win against well-organised teams like the Sharks. And if Steyn soared, Lions’ No 10 Elton Jantjies added little to his team on his return. Only when Marnitz Boshoff moved to flyhalf and coach Johan Ackermann made sweeping changes to his team did the visitors look dangerous, but by then it was too late.
Ackermann will have a long think in the coming days about the make-up of his side ahead of the Lions’ clash with the Blues. It is a game the Lions can win if they play smartly, but selection will be key, especially at No 10.
Another man who’s done everything and more asked of him in the flyhalf position is Jacques-Louis Potgieter. Like the previous week, when he orchestrated the downfall of the Lions, Potgieter’s sound performance on Saturday helped the Bulls get the better of the Blues and it now appears the No 10 has all but sewn up the jersey for himself. One can only wonder what the results in the Bulls’ two first games might have been had Potgieter been in the side.
Frans Ludeke’s team have hit back with back-to-back wins to kick-start their challenge and, finally, they look like a team that may be in the mix in the weeks and months to come. Of course, the presence of Victor Matfield up front has also helped, but again one wonders for how long Ludeke and Co will keep starting with the Bok veteran.
The plan, initially, was to use the big lock sparingly. But can the Bulls afford to leave Matfield out or on the bench?
While the Sharks and Bulls are firing at the moment and the Lions are punching strongly above their weight, the Stormers and Cheetahs continue to battle.
The Stormers came within a whisker of beating the Crusaders in Christchurch on Saturday, but if the players are honest with themselves they’ll know they didn’t ask enough questions with the ball in hand and really only kept things tight because of their defence.
The highlight of their performance was the strong showing by Schalk Burger who, like Steyn, appears hungry to play Test rugby again.
Sadly, the Cheetahs are something of a mixed bag at the moment. They can be excellent, but also very poor, and if they don’t tighten up their game they’re going to battle to make the kind of impression they did last year.
Sharks 37 Lions 23; Bulls 38 Blues 22; Force 32 Rebels 7; Crusaders 14 Stormers 13; Reds 43 Cheetahs 33; Hurricanes 21 Brumbies 29
Friday: Chiefs v Stormers; Rebels v Crusaders
Saturday: Hurricanes v Cheetahs; Highlanders v Force; Brumbies v Wara-tahs; Lions v Blues; Sharks v Reds