It’s been a period of denial for the coach, especially in terms of his unwavering faith in particular players. But even Meyer can no longer ignore the need for some big changes in the Springbok squad. By KEN BORLAND.
Even Heyneke Meyer is surely no longer in denial and key changes in personnel can be expected in the Springbok squad when it is announced on Saturday night after the seventh round of Currie Cup action.
Chief among these should be at flyhalf. While Meyer has quite rightly pointed to consistency of selection as the basis for success, his faith in Morne Steyn has not paid off. If anything, the hero of 2009 and 2010 is trapped in a downward spiral, his confidence draining away with every outing.
It is surely time for Steyn to take a break from Test rugby and regain his form and confidence in the Currie Cup. The Bulls, in dire straits in that competition, will surely welcome him back into their team with open arms.
The replacement for Steyn in the squad should be Lions pivot Elton Jantjies, the most in-form flyhalf in the country. The longer Meyer ignores the 22-year-old, who steered the Lions against the odds to the Currie Cup title last year, the more fuel he is throwing on the fire of those (like predecessor Peter de Villiers) who are targeting him on transformation grounds.
The starting flyhalf against Australia at Loftus Versfeld next Saturday will inevitably be young and inexperienced, with either Jantjies or Johan Goosen getting the nod, but Meyer has little choice but to grasp the nettle now.
Meyer has waxed lyrical about how he sees the makings of a great flyhalf in Goosen and the 20-year-old has done nothing to suggest otherwise in the half-an-hour of Test rugby he has played thus far. Against a struggling Australian team, at fortress Loftus with a crowd that will be behind him, there won’t be many easier times in which to hand over the baton.
Jantjies also looks like a man for the future of Springbok rugby. He has it all: the ability to spark a backline and a good passing game; a powerful, well-educated and accurate boot; and he is brave and secure in defence.
Pat Lambie is another impressive youngster who has many supporters, but it is perhaps being overly romantic to suggest he should be the Springboks’ starting flyhalf.
At Test level, a flyhalf has to be able to control the game, usually with the boot. While Lambie’s attacking talents are not in doubt, his game management skills still need developing and even the Sharks preferred Freddie Michalak to him at number 10.
But there has been a suggestion that Lambie, who was injured for much of the SuperRugby campaign and has barely featured off the Springbok bench, has been rested from this weekend’s Currie Cup action because Meyer is lining him up to start at fullback.
Zane Kirchner has done little wrong and has been solid and dependable at the back, but Lambie can definitely add more flair and penetration with ball in hand. And he can even stand at flyhalf when the Springboks are on attack.
Kirchner ran just eight metres with the ball in Dunedin and kicked just once, so one can hardly say he is making a big impact at the moment.
Where the Springboks did make a big impact was up front with Adriaan Strauss (15m gained, 4 tackles), Flip van der Merwe (5m, 13 tackles), Francois Louw (11m, 6 tackles) and Willem Alberts (10m, 6 tackles) all boasting impressive statistics.
It is unlikely that Meyer will make any unforced changes to his forwards, having already declared himself happy with their efforts and excited by their potential.
One change is definite, however, with prop Dean Greyling suspended for idiotically hitting Richie McCaw in the face with his forearm. Coenie Oosthuizen will make his return from a neck injury off the bench for the Cheetahs and it will be interesting to see how much game time he gets. Whether it will be enough to convince Meyer that the versatile front-ranker is ready for international rugby remains to be seen.
While Louw’s work-rate was good against the All Blacks, it did rather prove Meyer’s point about fetchers when the Springboks were penalised a dozen times at the ruck and maul. But a stellar display by Heinrich Brussow for the Cheetahs could see him return to favour.
The forwards have done their job in the last two Tests, winning the bulk of possession. But it is now imperative that Meyer chooses a backline to capitalise on that ball, in particular a flyhalf who uses possession a lot more wisely than Steyn has lately. DM
Photo: South Africa Springboks' Morne Steyn prepares to kick a penalty during their Rugby World Cup Pool D match against Namibia at North Harbour Stadium in Auckland September 22, 2011. REUTERS/Bogdan Cristel