Morné Steyn’s kicking game should be the difference when the desperate Springboks tackle the Wallabies on Saturday at Loftus.
Throw absolutely everything you have at the Wallabies. Take all points on offer. Kick the maker’s name off the ball, and force the opposition to play the majority of the game in their own territory.
Those who have called for an approach that shows more innovation and ambition and those who have criticised Allister Coetzee’s halfback selections as limited and conservative are missing the point. There’s so much more than just one Test result at stake this weekend.
Coetzee’s Boks could become the first South African side to lose to Australia at Loftus Versfeld in history, as well as the first South African side to lose a Test at this venue in 10 years. And yet, that’s not the worst of it.
The Boks have lost their last three matches. A defeat to the Wallabies will stretch their losing streak to four. That rotten run could easily be extended to six when one considers that the Boks will play the All Blacks in Durban on 8 October and a resurgent England in London on 12 November.
So this is it. Win at Loftus, or go on to record the worst losing streak by a Bok side in the professional era.
The good news for the Boks is that a battling Wallabies side has arrived in South Africa without a couple of their key players. Ball-stealing specialist David Pocock, the bane of the Boks for the better part of a decade, is unavailable due to a hand injury. The powerful hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau will not feature either.
The Wallabies beat the Boks 23-17 in Brisbane three weeks ago. While the Aussies deserved to win that fixture, as well as the subsequent encounter against Argentina, they aren’t exactly in a good space. Indeed, they were thrashed 3-0 by England in June and in the two fixtures against the All Blacks at the start of the Rugby Championship.
That said, the Boks aren’t in any position to be complacent. They have a great record against the Wallabies at Loftus Versfeld. The Bok pack will be expected to best a Pocock-less Aussie forward contingent. But make no mistake, they can’t take anything for granted. They need to get the job done.
Steyn is not a South African public favourite. He will be 36 when the Boks go to the World Cup, and so can’t be viewed as the long-term answer at No 10.
But right now, Steyn is the solution. He has steered the Bulls, Stade Français, and the Boks to some remarkable wins and titles over the course of his career. This Saturday, the Boks will need Steyn to fire as a game manager and a goal-kicker. A one-point win would do for a Bok team that is desperate to halt their current slide.
The Boks should have the upper hand at the scrums and lineouts. Pieter-Steph du Toit has been the Boks’ most consistent player in 2016, and it’s good to see him backed at No 5 this weekend even though 2015 SA Player of the Year Lood de Jager is fit and available.
That said, the Boks were bullied by the Wallabies at the gainline and breakdown in the previous encounter in Brisbane. This week, Coetzee and forwards coach Matt Proudfoot came out in defence of the loose trio, as they feel that Francois Louw, Oupa Mohoje and Warren Whiteley are doing an adequate job. Nevertheless, these three players will be under pressure to perform this coming Saturday.
How they fare will determine how much space Rudy Paige and Steyn have at No 9 and 10. Steyn can be a devastatingly effective flyhalf when he is presented with a decent platform. He will be instructed to kick for territory this Saturday as the Boks aim to suffocate and squeeze the Wallabies into submission.
Ultimately, Coetzee will be hoping for a better goal-kicking showing by his charges. The Boks have left 40 points on the park in the past seven Tests due to wayward goal kicks. Steyn has come in for the misfiring Elton Jantjies, and will need to find his radar this Saturday if the Boks are to end their losing run.
Of course, Steyn has done it all before at this very ground. In 2009, he nailed two crucial goal kicks to steer the Boks to a series win against the British & Irish Lions. As a former Bulls player, he knows this ground all too well.
HEAD TO HEAD
Overall: Springboks 45, Wallabies 36, Draw 1
At Loftus Versfeld: Springboks 6, Wallabies 0
STATS AND FACTS
– The Wallabies will be looking to defeat South Africa twice in a calendar year for the first time since 2011 (when they did so three times).
– The Springboks have won their last three games against Australia on home soil, keeping the Wallabies to 10 points or fewer in each of those three fixtures.
– The Springboks haven’t lost at Loftus to any team since New Zealand visited in 2006.
– The Wallabies have the worst discipline in the 2016 tournament thus far, conceding a tournament-high 53 penalties and three yellow cards.
– Australia have been forced to make more tackles than any other team so far in this tournament (525). Their 131 tackles per game is 15 more than any other team.
– Wallabies centre Samu Kerevi has gained 8.1 metres per carry, the best rate of any player who has made at least 10 carries.
– Michael Hooper has made 10 more tackles (53) than any other player. He has also won the joint-second most turnovers (6)