iafrica.com. Jan de Koning
Meyer, speaking in Worcester at the weekend after naming his 30-man squad for the opening leg of the inaugural Rugby Championship, said he believes in “coaching” players back to form… not axing them
Steyn, like his Bulls halfback partner Francois Hougaard, struggled with his form this year and has been nowhere near the match-winner that saw him set a host of world records since his Test debut in 2009.
After having secured a series win over the 2009 B&I Lions, as well as having played a major role in the Boks’ Tri-Nations triumph, Steyn has suffered a dramatic slump in form – especially the last 12 months.
In the recent three-Test series against England his goal-kicking hardly reached the 50 percent margin, prompting a chorus of calls for him to be replaced as Bok pivot.
The tendentious Cape media wanted Peter Grant, from Durban there was a deafening outcry for Patrick Lambie to be the flyhalf, in Bloemfontein they believed only injury prevents Johann Goosen from replacing Steyn and there have also been suggestions from Johannesburg that the Lions’ Elton Jantjies should start in the Bok No.10 jersey.
However, Meyer stood his ground and at the weekend defended his selection of the 37-Test match-winner.
“What I have seen, and what we saw again this [Saturday] morning, is that you need a No.9 and No.10 that can kick tactically… that can control the game,” Meyer said in reference to the Sharks’ 6-37 loss to the Chiefs in the Super Rugby Final.
Meyer admitted that the 27-year-old Steyn needed to make a drastic step up in terms of the quality of his game.
“Obviously Morné [Steyn] hasn’t played to his best and Francois [Hougaard] as well,” the Bok mentor said, adding: “That is something we need to work on.
“I really did think about the halfbacks, but you need some sort of continuity. I have always been a coach that believe you fix something by coaching.
“You can’t pick a different player every week… throw him out and get a new player.
“They know they have to step up to the plate and they know I wasn’t happy with their performances. They are quality players and they have proved themselves in the past.”
Meyer said he expected the youngsters in the country to give the incumbents the wake-up call they need. “The great things is there are a lot of youngsters coming through in those positions,” he said.
“They know they have two games [against Argentina in at Newlands on August 18 and in Mendoza a week later] to prove themselves and then we will look at the squad again.”
Meyer also dismissed suggestions that Steyn’s poor goal-kicking form meant his overall game had suffered.
“Morné played good rugby at times, even though he didn’t kick so well,” the coach said, “Morné is a player that is mentally very tough and it is just a matter of time before he is back to his best.
“It is my job to get him back to his best and I am confident I will get him back there [to his best].
“It is no secret that I think that Johann Goosen could be a huge match-winner,” he said of the player most feel is the Bok No.10 of the future.
Meyer also revealed that he saw Lambie more as a fullback, and not a regular flyhalf.
“Patrick’s best position is fullback,” the Bok mentor said. “He has been injured for a while, so it was great to see him back playing.
“He can also be a great No.10, but Patrick knows that he needs to improve his tactical kicking… and that’s the thing with Morné as well at this stage.
“Luckily a guy like Johann Goosen is going to play in the next three to four weeks, so that will give us more options.”
Meyer said that Grant was considered, but the fact that he was playing in Japan had counted against him.
“Peter [Grant] has played well,” Meyer said, adding: “He is a guy that is an 80 percent-plus goal-kicker.
“Although Morné, at Test level, also used to be an 80 percent goal-kicker. I did look at him [Grant], he is a great player.
“It doesn’t help that he is going back to Japan again… that makes the situation more difficult.
“I must say, he was close to the squad. He is a guy I can fall back on, but I always like my second No.10 as a youngster, and that is why Patrick and Elton [Jantjies] got the nod there.”
Asked about the reason for selecting three scrumhalves in his 30-man squad, Meyer said it was such a specialist position that he needed the extra back-up.
“It is always a tough one,” he said, adding: “If you select 30 players you want to go with two full squads, especially for training purposes, but hooker and scrumhalf are such specialist positions.
“We have only been together for three weeks.
“No.9 and hooker are the players that touches the ball the most and they are still finding their feet in terms of the game plan.
“You don’t want to get into a situation where your No.9 and hooker are on the bench, then he goes from Currie Cup rugby straight into starting a Test. We want to keep those guys in the mix [at the Bok team].
“We want to keep them up to date with the gameplan.
“It is tough for two other players, who can’t make the squad. However, it is important to have continuity with your No.9 and hooker.”
Meyer said Hougaard would also cover wing, where he has featured for country and province before.
“Juan de Jongh has also played well and he was close to the team. [However,] with Bjorn Basson injured we had to decide if we would go for Juan [de Jongh], or go for a guy who can cover outside centre and wing.
“With the extra scrumhalf and hooker [in the squad], I opted to go with JJ [Engelbrecht] as extra cover on the wing as well.”