There’s a statistic that should have the Springbok management waking up in a cold sweat in the month leading to the series against the British and Irish Lions.
Botha and Stransky offer suggestions on Springbok pivot.
On the Lions’ 1997 visit, Neil Jenkins scored 41 of their 59 points. The rest came from three tries and a rare but decisive drop goal by Jeremy Guscott.
Simnikiwe Xabanisa writes for the Sunday Times that it doesn’t take an educated rugby man to work out that Ian McGeechan’s men bested the Springboks at goal-kicking. But the headache for Peter de Villiers lies not only in who will nail the Boks’ goal kicks, but who will be the flyhalf.
With the anointed pivot, Ruan Pienaar, injuring his knee early in the Super 14, De Villiers and company turned their attention to World Cup-winner Butch James — who promptly crocked his own knee and was ruled out of contention for the Lions tour.
Pienaar was back in action only last week, and his rustiness and below-average goal-kicking is such that the selectors are having to factor in someone less experienced in their thinking.
Bulls flyhalf Morne Steyn — through topping the Super 14 scoring charts — has put his hand up, with the uncapped and instinctive end-of-year tourist Earl Rose getting backing from an unlikely source, the structure-obsessed former Bok coach Jake White.
Typically for men who went about representing SA in different ways at the position, Joel Stransky and Naas Botha offer two solutions.
Stransky believes in exploring all options to an almost illogical conclusion, while Botha prefers to stick to De Villiers’s original plan.
“We can’t go into the Lions series without a goal-kicker. We learnt that 12 years ago and we can’t make that mistake again,” Stransky reckons. “There are a lot of ways of looking at it but it’s still a precarious situation. Even if there were no injuries to key players, we still would have needed to find a kicker — we don’t have a recognised world-class kicker.”
Stransky said a lot depended on what kind of game De Villiers wanted to play.
“In picking Ruan last year, he showed us what he wants to do, but then who’s going to kick for goal? Maybe if Frans Steyn is fit Ruan would kick the short goals and Frans the longer ones.”
Another option, Stransky says, would be to go back to the retired Percy Montgomery: “But then that would limit their way of playing.”
Although amenable to the inclusion of the in-form Steyn, the 1995 World Cup winner threw the Stormers’ Peter Grant into the mix.
“I don’t think he’s been given enough of a run in the Springbok team,” says Stransky. “But while he plays his rugby on the gain line and gets his backline away nicely, I don’t trust his kicking in a Test because he’s often not been the Stormers’ number-one kicker.”
Stransky’s other potential solutions were picking both Pienaar and Grant and getting them to work on their kicking with Botha until the Lions series. He also suggested having abrasive Sharks scrumhalf Rory Kockott on the bench as the kicking insurance.
On the subject of Steyn, he says he’s done enough to be selected: “He’s rock-steady and plays well within his game. A measure of how good he’s been is the form displayed by Wynand Olivier and the opportunities the Bulls’ back three have had.
“You can’t have a team performing as well as the Bulls if their flyhalf is not playing well. He may not attack the gain line or put his backline away as well as Grant, but if you want a great strike kicker, Steyn is your man.”
Botha agrees with Stransky’s sentiments on Steyn, but does not believe he should be thrown into the Lions series as the leading flyhalf.
“Morne’s playing really well, but until they play him they don’t really know what they’ll get out of him in an international match,” he says.
“This is a series in which the winner takes all and you don’t want to lose the first game. It’s a three-Test series in which you need to pick a side you know can win it. I’m not saying you can’t pick a new guy, but if you’ve got two kickers, one who has played in an international and another who hasn’t, who do you expect to react well to missing his first kick at goal?”
Where Botha does not agree with his colleague is in the many options Stransky came up with to solve the problem: “You must go in with what you know, so you still play Ruan and still make him the kicker.
“He has enough time to get sharp and to work at his goal-kicking.”
There are options aplenty, but Botha probably has it right when he says: “Maybe the next few weeks will give us the answers, where whoever plays well through the Super 14 semifinals and final gets picked.”Tweet