Rugby | Steyn a step backwards for Boks?

Cape Town – The good news is Patrick Lambie is alive and well. 

That may be obvious now, but there was genuine concern for Lambie’s well-being when CJ Stander went smashing into his head after 22 minutes at Newlands on Saturday. 

Lambie didn’t move, and the replays were sickening, but fortunately by the end of the evening he was mobile and is now expected to make a full recovery in time for the third Test in Port Elizabeth. 

The bad news is that Lambie’s concussion threw the Springboks into somewhat of a flyhalf crisis.

With Lambie out, Elton Jantjies is expected to start at Ellis Park this weekend, and now Morne Steyn is in Johannesburg as emergency cover. 

Steyn becomes the fourth overseas-based player in the current Bok squad, and he is set to move ahead of Garth April in the pecking order despite the Sharks playmaker being named in the original 31-man Bok squad two weeks ago as the third-choice flyhalf. 

Coetzee said upon the announcement of that squad that he wasn’t going to call on an overseas-based flyhalf to be third-choice cover for the Ireland series, adding that April possessed the goods to make it at Test level. 

Coetzee also said at the time that members of the SA ‘A’ side would be called upon first should there be injury-enforced changes to the Bok squad. 

But this is a desperate time and following Saturday’s 26-20 loss to 14-man Ireland, Coetzee has decided that he cannot afford to throw April into the deep end just yet. 

At that very first squad announcement Coetzee was firm in his responsibility to manage April, and he did say then that he would go overseas before feeding April to the wolves should Jantjies and Lambie both be unavailable. 

Had the Boks won the first Test against Ireland, then Coetzee may have been tempted to give April a spot on the bench this weekend. 

Coetzee is under immediate pressure, and that combined with April’s shaky display against the England Saxons last Friday means that the Bok coach needs someone tried and tested. 

And they don’t come more tried and tested than Steyn. 

Having played 60 Tests for the Springboks since making his debut in 2009, Steyn is the second-highest points scorer in Bok history behind Percy Montgomery. 

But there are the obvious concerns. 

Steyn was a mere spectator at last year’s Rugby World Cup, playing just 25 minutes in South Africa’s largely insignificant 64-0 win over the USA. 

That was Steyn’s only appearance of 2015, but more concerning is that there were no other younger, locally-based flyhalves for Coetzee to turn to.

Outside of Jantjies and April, the other options at flyhalf from the Super Rugby playmakers are Francois Brummer, Marnitz Boshoff, Jean-Luc du Plessis and Fred Zeilinga. 

Of those, Brummer was the only name to make Johan Ackermann’s SA ‘A’ squad for the Saxons matches. 

Overseas, Johan Goosen and Demetri Catrakilis may have appeared more attractive options than any of those locally-based players, but they are both in French Top 14 semi-final action with their clubs this weekend. 

So, Steyn has an opportunity to resurrect his international career. 

While it is hard to view the selection of the 31-year-old veteran as anything other than a step backwards, the merits of the decision are clear. 

This is not the time for a rookie, and Coetzee needs a win to get his tenure moving in the right direction and to ensure that the Boks do not suffer an embarrassing series defeat.

Steyn has apparently been in good form with Stade Francais this season, but can he spark the kind of attacks that Springbok fans want to see? 

That’s the other thing. 

Steyn does not fit the mold of an impact player. 

Can he and should he play off the bench behind Jantjies? Surely, if you’re going to include a player like Steyn, having his metronome-like kicking ability from the start is more desirable? 

The enterprising Jantjies seems more of an impact player than Steyn, but that hardly seems a path that Coetzee will venture down.

Calling up Steyn is a decision that is hard to argue against at this time, but it is certainly not a decision that suggests progress in South African rugby.

Playing April would suggest such progress, but it may come at a price. 

And, right now, winning is more valuable to Coetzee than anything else. 

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