Give Morne a break!
Very few will like it less than me to have lost against the Poms on Saturday. Ok yes, it was a draw but everyone knows, a draw at home is as good as a victory for the visitors, and although the record books will show it as a draw, it was the English who walked off the park feeling they deserved a victory, not the Springboks.
It was a bitter after taste after the sweet victory the Junior Boks showed the previous night. Not without flaws, the junior Boks played to a game plan that worked for them on the day and adapted it when it was necessary. It was the great vision of the 18 year old Handre Pollard, and the undying commitment of Jan Serfontein, which got the Springboks the key break they needed to win the match.
After the Springbok loss, the knives are out for Morne Steyn who’s kicking woe’s continue to dilute his statistics, and the records that’s been touted around twitter as a reminder of what Steyn has done for his country and his province now seems a distant memory…and if nothing else, a confirmation of the fact that he is nowhere near the player he was a couple of years ago.
An interesting statistic which was touted was the record amount of dropgoals he succeeded with. Yet, the thought of him not attempting a single one in the World Cup quarterfinal against Australia once again haunted me.
What has happened from 2009, when the entire Loftus Versfeld chanted his name to replace to totally inept Ruan Pienaar, which he duly did and came out as the hero of the day, to 2012, when the entire Port Elizabeth crowd booed him, and prayed Ruan Pienaar will take over the kicking duties?
Yes, Morne is currently, and has been for some time, not in the greatest form of his career, especially since the 2009 season when the Springboks dominated World Rugby with their kick and chase approach. The same approach which became obsolete since 2010′s application of the ELV’s.
I won’t delve into the stats for this year, but compared to the records that have been broadcast over the weekend, it’s a darn shadow of his former achievements.
And after Saturday, Morne is the object of most rugby lovers’ wrath. The unforgiveable draw against the despised Poms needs a scapegoat, and for some, Morne is that scapegoat.
I too agree that had Morne’s performance been up to scratch the Springboks would have most probably defeated the English by a greater margin in the first two tests, and probably would have had the victory in the third.
But he was off song. Just like he was during the Bulls loss against the Blues.
The question we need to ask though is, is only Morne to blame? And if so, who would have been the right replacement for him on Saturday?
It would have taken a big time gambler to have sent Elton Jantjies up against the English on Saturday. In their destructive and spoiling mood, they would have eaten Jantjies for breakfast. To me, Jantjies would have been a step backwards, considering the match situation, and the fact that our forwards could simply not dominate to collisions.
Patrick Lambie was injured, and Johan Goosen has also not yet recovers from his injury he incurred during the loss against the Highlanders.
So in my mind, Morne was still the nr 1 choice for flyhalf for last Saturday’s match. Perhaps Ruan Pienaar should have taken over the kicking duties when he came onto the pitch though. But how ironic would that have been considering the 2009 sub against the British and Irish Lions at Loftus? And would the admittance by Captain Jean and Coach Heyneke, that there is something amiss with their star kicker, taint Morne so badly that it affects his entire future career? I doubt it.
Perhaps if we want to lay blame, we should look a bit higher up and a bit deeper.
In both the previous matches, Willem Alberts was key in setting up forward dominance at the collisions. With Alberts injured, everyone knew that there is a shortage of mongrel and grunt in the pack, and that even with the spirit of a rookie, Jacques Potgieter could never match up to Alberts’ brute force.
Heyneke persisted with the same game plan which saw the Springboks to a halftime draw of 6 all in the first test match in Durban.
But even then, the Springboks saw that it was’t helping their cause, and adjusted to bring out a walloping in the second half.
An adjustment we didn’t see this past weekend.
So is Heyneke’s quoted philosophy of “If we can’t get plan A right” the reason for the Springboks loss? Did the players not get plan A right due to the absence of Alberts?
Or did they not get plan A right because they were being complacent? Make no mistake, full credit to England for the way they played. But something in the Bok camp just reeked of not being “all there”.
It’s nothing new though. It’s an old disease which we’ve soon all too often. Alas, we’ve seen it a week ago when the Springboks were leading 22-3 after 20 minutes of play in the second test against England at Ellis Park.
And with the “series win”, next week’s Super Rugby matches, a new Audi R8, a 50th test cap, a move to Japan for two of the players, another fringe player off to Munster….well, it could well be speculated that mentally, these Springboks are still not there.
Is it an excuse? Simply put, no. If the All Blacks can drill home a whitewash with 60 points to nil, whilst “experimenting” with youngsters such as Aaron Cruden, Beauden Barret, Ben Smith, Sam Cane and Aaron Smith, why can’t the Springboks not simply put the win away against an injured ravaged England side who they’ve defeated in 9 consecutive tests?
Heyneke Meyer’s words in the beginning was that he wants to win every match and that winning is the only thing. He drew the line in the sand, not the fans. The fans would have been more accepting of a reversal had Meyer opted for experimentation in the third “dead rubber”, much as New Zealand did. But he didn’t.
It’s still early days though in Meyer’s career, and we will have to patiently sit and see his career develop and make a few unexpected turns along the way.
No one is calling for Meyer’s head…just yet. And who in their right mind will? Three matches is not enough to judge a coach on, but with the strict standards Heyneke set for himself, and made us aware of, we can only but judge him on his results.
And considering that Morne was the only option, in Meyer’s phylosophy of “win at all cost”, I’d suggest we all just sheathe our knives for Morne at this stage. After all, he doesn’t pick himself, and if given the choice to, he would not have considering the embarassment of being boo’d at PE this weekend. Something that several Springboks and Bok teams have had to endure right accross the country. Remember Ricky January? Remember Loftus 2006? Morne is not the first and will not be the last and if you are one of those being judgmental of him being booed, ask whether you were part of the group that booe’d the Boks in the past.
And maybe we should all just give Morne a little bit of a break. And us all, I mean the Bok coaches as well.
Consider this for a moment:
Since Morne’s debut against the British and Irish Lions, he has played 2478 Test match minutes out of a possible 2660. That is 34 of the last 36 test matches and 32 of those as starting flyhalf.
Also consider that he’s since then played an astronomical 3375 minutes of Super Rugby for the Bulls out of a possible 3520, all of them as starting flyhalf. That is 43 of the 44 Bulls Super Rugby matches since the beginning of the 2010 as starter.
Perhaps there is nothing really wrong with Morne’s form. Maybe he’s just fatigued.
So give Morne a break, please Heyneke?
- Morne Steyn as played and started in all but 4 of the 36 Springbok tests since he made his debut in 2009. He has played in all but 1 Super Rugby match for the Bulls since the 2010 season. Maybe he needs a bit of a break?