Morne Steyn rolled back the years against the British & Irish Lions & Frans Steyn now gets to do the double against the All Blacks 12 years later, writes Mark Keohane.
In this crazy time of Covid-influenced rugby matches, bio-bubbles, frustration and fairytale, don’t dismiss too quickly a storyline in which Frans Steyn kicks a 50 metre penalty to sink the All Blacks in Townsville.
In November, 2020, I wrote that Morne Steyn was the player I’d involve for the Springboks against the British & Irish Lions, as back-up to Handre Pollard, and as first choice if Pollard had not recovered from his knee injury.
I was asked if Danie Craven would be playing scrumhalf with Steyn.
I was told to move on from the glory years of 2009 and that it was 2021.
And we all know what happened …
Morne Steyn came on in the last quarter of the third and final Test and kicked two penalties, the last one on 78 minutes to secure the Springboks a 19-16 Test and series win.
Steyn, who scored a record 31 points in a Test win against the All Blacks in 2009, hasn’t been used in Australia yet, but it is the other veteran, Frans Steyn, who has now been given a crack at a team he killed with two monster long-range penalties in Hamilton, New Zealand back in 2009.
Steyn kicked three of the biggest penalties witnessed in Hamilton to kick-start the Springboks 32-29 Tri-nations title-winning match against the All Blacks.
Now, 12 years-on, he is back in the Test mix and will be asked to employ a specific role, be it at No 12 or No 15 in the last quarter of a game, or possibly even sooner.
Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber and National Director of Rugby Rassie Erasmus have understandably not tinkered much with what has always been the first choice starting XV of those available players and the changes for the centenary Test against the All Blacks are measured and understandable.
Franco Mostert, brilliant in the series win against the Lions, gets to play a more powerful role off the bench as a specialist lock who can also cover blindside flank. Mostert looked drained in the two Tests against Australia, with his role that of a starting flanker, who finished the match at lock. It was asking too much even of a player with his capacity to seemingly never have an empty tank.
The Bok coaching and strategic leadership has picked a match-day 23 with greater balance by including a specialist flyhalf in Elton Jantjies on the bench, who also provides cover to Pollard as a specialist goalkicker, which gives the Boks the luxury of including (Frans) Steyn to bang a few over from within the All Blacks half.
Steyn’s physicality also provides a like for like presence should there be an injury-enforced or tactical change at 12 during the Test or should the match flow necessitate a shift of Pollard to 12 and Jantjies to 10.
Nienaber has options among his backs, with enough comfort when it comes to the forwards bench cover.
Lood de Jager’s return at lock is immense for the Springboks and the lineout will be more effective with him calling the shots. Kwagga Smith, starting at blindside flank, has always done well against the All Blacks and New Zealand teams in Super Rugby. The absence of Jasper Wiese also influenced the five (and not six) substitute’s forward combination.
Cheslin Kolbe’s magic and defensive organisation will again be missed. Right wing Kolbe is such an integral part to the potency of the Boks defensive alignment and it is the one area that can’t be replicated because there is only one Kolbe. It isn’t just what he does with the ball, but his anticipation to be in places other players just don’t get to.
Nienaber was never going to make big changes, despite the disappointment of losing in successive weeks to the Wallabies and he was always going to keep faith with the core of those players who won the 2019 World Cup and dug deep enough to triumph against the British and Irish Lions.
What you will see is a far more specific Bok approach, which will be closer to what made them successful at the World Cup and against the Lions.
Many call it boring rugby, but I call it brutal and powerful Bok rugby, and when executed properly, no team beats it.
History favours the All Blacks and the past month’s form also favours the All Blacks, but this particular squad of players has gone to toe with the All Blacks since the 25-24 defeat at Newlands in 2017. In 2018, the Boks won 36-34 in Wellington and lost 32-30 in Pretoria after leading 30-13 with 10 minutes to play. It was a miracle All Blacks victory and a brilliant one at that.
The two teams met in Wellington in 2019 and the Boks scored with the last movement of the game and Handre Pollard converted for a 16-all draw and they last met in the opening round of the 2019 World Cup in a match worthy of a final. The All Blacks withstood a 20 minute onslaught from the Boks, counter attacked with ruthless efficiency to lead 17-3 before a Bok fight back reduced the deficit to 17-13 with 10 minutes to go. Two late Richie Mo’unga penalties ensured a 23-13 win.
Since that Cape Town Test in 2017, there has been nothing between the two teams, and the inclusion of Jantjies and (Frans) Steyn on the bench is an acknowledgement from the coaches that Saturday could be decided by a penalty or drop goal.
Those anticipating a one-sided All Blacks win may be underestimating the context of what has played out between the two teams since that Cape Town Test in 2017, when the Boks went back to a style that played to their strengths and avoided being lulled into trying to play the All Blacks with a style, which the All Blacks have mastered.
🇿🇦 Boks boosted by experience for big @AllBlacks Test
5️⃣0️⃣th Test cap for @NtandoTrevor
🗣️ "Strong defence and accurate execution will be key"
👉 Team announcement: https://t.co/q0xdLbtUhQ#StrongerTogether #StrongerForever #NZLvRSA pic.twitter.com/s9wRIiUtxV
— Springboks (@Springboks) September 21, 2021