Frans Steyn, for a second successive Test, turned back the clock to remind the rugby world of his greatness, writes Mark Keohane.
Steyn, introduced into the Test against Wales in Cardiff as an early replacement for the injured Damian Willemse, thrived in the most intense pressure situations and his 54 metre penalty to reduce the Welsh lead to just three points early in the second half was a defining moment in the match.
Wales had repelled a series of Springbok attacks five metres from their tryline, turned over the Bok ball and earned a penalty that Dan Biggar converted into points and an unlikely 15-9 lead. Right in that moment the momentum of the Test threatened to go Wales’s way. The belief was with the home team, their fanatical support base found their voice and the Boks looked tired and beaten.
Step up Fransie Steyn to nail a monster of a kick in the rain and step up the Springboks, who after that penalty kick always looked the most likely winners.
Steyn’s boot is the stuff of rugby legend but the way he attacked with ball in hand, brushed off Welsh defenders and smashed his way through tackles took me back to his debut Test against Ireland in Dublin in 2006.
Steyn, a teenager, played on the wing and scored a wonderful try and made some big tackles. Steyn the fresh-faced kid was spectacular and the veteran Steyn, 15 years on in Cardiff, was as potent.
The Springboks had lost four successive Tests against Wales in Cardiff since 2013 but Frans Steyn had never lost in seven previous Test to Wales. Make that eight in a row for Steyn and a first win in Cardiff in five for the Boks.
Steyn, a two time World Cup winner, has a 78 percent winning success rate in his 72 Tests.
Steyn proved the difference in Cardiff, as he did for the Springboks in the 31-29 come from behind win against the All Blacks in Brisbane.
In both Tests, Steyn was introduced from the bench. In the All Blacks win, it was a calculated substitution for him to start the second half and in Cardiff it was down to Willemse’s failed concussion Test.
Willemse’s injury was cruel on a player desperate for international game time, but in the context of the Test match, having Steyn on the field was a game saver.
Willemse is unlikely to be available for next weekend’s Test against Scotland, but it may be that Steyn continues in his impact role and one of Willie le Roux or Aphelele Fassi starts at fullback.
I’d like to see Fassi at 15 or on the wing, where Jesse Kriel struggled. Kriel is a centre and a very good one, but he is not a Test wing.
Former Springbok coach turned SuperSport analyst Nick Mallett described the first half of the Test as ‘a strange game of rugby’, given there was just one scrum in 40 minutes. It meant the Boks couldn’t get set piece dominance and the Welsh, legally and illegally, negated the Bok lineout drive.
There was more emphasis from the match officials on how Wales countered the lineout maul in the second half and there was less resistance from the hosts, who were always going to be stretched in the final quarter because of an inferior bench.
The key to the Springboks since 2019 has been the quality of their substitutes, with a world-class front row, the versatility of Franco Mostert as a lock and flank and, of course, Steyn.
Another of the replacements to accelerate the Springboks charge to victory was Cobus Reinach. The replacement scrumhalf added urgency and pace and his out of hand kicking also had accuracy.
The Boks, indifferent and out of sorts in the first 30 minutes, have tremendous characters and are a side that has always shown character. None more than Frans Steyn.
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