Perhaps Heyneke Meyer didn’t want to spoil the actual team announcement on Wednesday, or he’s afraid of irreparably damaging fragile psyches, but the Springbok coach on Saturday night announced an expanded 30-man squad with three flyhalves and three fullbacks included for the home Rugby Championship Tests against Australia and New Zealand.
That meant that despite adding the Lions duo of Elton Jantjies and Jaco Taute to the mix, there was still place for Morne Steyn and Zane Kirchner, the two most unpopular selections in his teams this year.
Thankfully, the selection of the Springbok team is not a popularity contest, because that would be catastrophically fickle, but Lady Luck has clearly turned her face away from Steyn, with even his kicking boots deserting him. She could well look in Steyn’s direction again, but what the 28-year-old clearly needs is a break from the game and the chance to rediscover himself, his form and confidence, perhaps in Currie Cup rugby with the Bulls.
Instead, the embattled flyhalf will have to pitch up for Springbok duty again, face the uncertainty of playing for his place and feel all the pressure and ugly, nasty public vitriol all over again. For someone who prides himself on getting the best out of his players, it seems cruel that Meyer will subject Steyn to that again, rather than a sympathetic arm around the shoulder and a “Listen, you’re still a great player but I think you need a break” chat.
Or is Meyer hoping that a few sleeps at home will be a miracle cure for Steyn and the confidence that has so steadily been eroded all year will suddenly return?
Common sense would dictate that the starting flyhalf berth will now be between the 20-year-old Goosen, who has looked to the manner born in his half-an-hour of Test rugby thus far, and Jantjies, surely the most in-form pivot in South Africa at the moment, whose all-round brilliance has led the Lions to the top of the Currie Cup log.
But will Meyer back them? The fact that he has not yet summoned the courage to drop Steyn suggests he struggles to have complete confidence in players he does not know intimately.
The same has happened at fullback, where Pat Lambie and Taute could bring some attacking flair, if only Meyer would back them. Zane Kirchner has been solid and done little wrong, but he does not bring any inspiration to a backline that has only played in fits and starts.
The hedging of bets can also be seen in the selection of four tighthead props in Jannie du Plessis, Pat Cilliers, CJ van der Linde and Coenie Oosthuizen, although the latter two are also comfortable in the number one jersey. But at least some good sense can be seen in that over-supply, because both Du Plessis and Cilliers have been struggling with injury.
Lock Eben Etzebeth is also back in the fold after being suspended for an ineffectual headbutt and the battle for three second-row places in the 22-man squad will be intriguing.
Flip van der Merwe, Juandre Kruger and Andries Bekker did their chances no harm at all with their committed performances in Dunedin and Meyer may well want to bed down the forward combinations that surprised everyone by dominating the All Blacks on their home turf. But Etzebeth has enjoyed a dream year thus far.
Pat Lambie, Zane Kirchner, Bryan Habana, Jean de Villiers, Juan de Jongh, Francois Steyn, Jaco Taute, Francois Hougaard, Lwazi Mvovo, Johan Goosen, Elton Jantjies, Morne Steyn, Ruan Pienaar, Duane Vermeulen, Willem Alberts, Jacques Potgieter, Francois Louw, Marcell Coetzee, Juandre Kruger, Andries Bekker, Flip van der Merwe, Eben Etzebeth, Jannie du Plessis, Pat Cilliers, Adriaan Strauss, Tiaan Liebenberg, Craig Burden, Tendai Mtawarira, CJ van der Linde, Coenie Oosthuizen. DM
Photo: South Africa Springboks’ Morne Steyn attends a media conference in Wellington October 4, 2011. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings
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