CAPE TOWN - If ever Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber needed further convincing that Morné Steyn is still good enough to play Test rugby, he surely got it at the Cape Town Stadium on Saturday night.
The 36-year-old will be 37 by the time the British and Irish Lions line up for the first Test against the Boks in July, but while his departure from the team in 2016 came after the disastrous 57-15 defeat to the All Blacks in Durban, he has rediscovered the touch that made him a match-winner in international rugby.
Steyn produced a vintage display to steer the Bulls to a hard-fought 20-16 victory over the Stormers in the Rainbow Cup SA, and it wasn’t just his two conversions and a penalty that stood out.
The manner in which he controlled the game for the visitors was impressive in the face of a defensive onslaught from the Stormers.
Steyn kept calm under pressure and varied his play smartly – using the boot to great effect to win territory, launch up-and-unders and to relieve pressure. In addition, he produced two delightful cross-kicks for Madosh Tambwe, one of which the right wing dropped, while the other led to a try.
He carried the ball up to the advantage line, as well as adding width to the Bulls attack with his passing game.
While Handre Pollard made his comeback after a long injury lay-off recently, and Elton Jantjies is getting game time in France as well, Steyn provides Nienaber with a reassuring third option at No 10 – and what a fairytale it would be for the Bulls pivot, who made his Test debut against the Lions in 2009.
“Morné has been a stalwart for the team. He is now in the alignment camps with the national set-up. He’s obviously enjoying the fact that he’s still been earmarked as a national player. I was glad for him,” Bull coach Jake White said.
“He’s very tactically astute on how we wanted to play this weekend. The way Morné kicked those balls across, they were always pinpoint.
“The way that he kept, at times, the Stormers staying in their own half, which is also very important … To have Morné’s sort of experience and seniority, and his direction in the game was vital. He had a great game, and it’s good for his confidence.”
White bemoaned the high penalty count against his side, as well as the frustration around the ‘captain’s challenge’, but lauded his team for their never-say-die attitude in holding out the Stormers despite going down to 14 men for the last 10 minutes due to a Nizaam Carr yellow card.
“When you’ve got a short tournament, you can’t actually afford to lose any games. You need to stay in the hunt, especially with the fact that the Sharks have got off to such a good start (10 points from two games),” he said ahead of Saturday’s clash against the Sharks at Loftus Versfeld (6.15pm kick-off).
“We had to find a way to win. We had to find a style to win, and again, credit to the way we planned.”