The Springbok coaching staff have emphasised that the youngsters on Tri-Nations duty this week in Sydney and next week in Wellington have the opportunity to play themselves into Rugby World Cup contention, but the man with the most at stake is the current flyhalf incumbent, Morne Steyn.

The signs are there from the Springbok management that they are leaning towards 2007 RWC flyhalf Butch James for the 2011 event, and that the ball is in Steyn’s court on this tour to play himself into the kind of form that will make him undroppable.

When 21 players were said to be incapacitated for this tour by injury, the reality was that most of them were in fact players that had been overplayed in Super Rugby and needed to be rested, in line with the management’s contention early in the tournament that players should play only a certain number of minutes.

Which made Steyn’s selection for this tour peculiar seeing as he played more Super Rugby than any other South African, even more than Andries Bekker, who was just about played into the ground by the Stormers.

Steyn played a staggering 16 matches in a row for the Bulls and was on the field for 1255 minutes out of a possible 1280, with the net 25 minutes he was subbed shared between three matches. In addition, Steyn has started 25 of the Springboks’ last 26 Tests.

So why is he on Tri-Nations tour when Springboks who played far less Super Rugby are in cotton wool? The obvious deduction is that Steyn right now is not certain of a starting place in the Springbok team for the World Cup.

His form was not good in the first half of the Bulls’ Super campaign and the worse the Bulls played in those earlier rounds, the deeper Steyn retreated into the safety of the “pocket”, although he addressed this later in the competition and part of the reason that the Bulls recovered was because the flyhalf played closer to the gain line, thus allowing his forwards to get into the game.

The impact of Butch James at the Lions has impressed the Bok selectors and indeed their backline play improved dramatically when James arrived from Bath. Whether at 10 or 12, he brought the backline into play by attacking the advantage line and then offloading or putting through grubber kicks.

The 2007 RWC flyhalf will have his supporters for a recall, just as Steyn has his. Indeed many can’t imagine a successful World Cup campaign without Steyn’s brilliant boot. He has proved over and over again that he is the man for the pressure kicks and if you consider that World Cup campaigns invariably come down to defence and goal-kicking, maybe it is Steyn that should be in cotton wool instead of being send back into the trenches having had almost no R & R.

It should remembered, too, that James was the flyhalf in France 07 when the team had the boot of fullback Percy Montgomery. If there is no Steyn on the field in this World Cup, who will take the long range pressure kicks? Namesake Frans Steyn? He misses two for each one he goals and Butch is reliable only closer to the sticks.

When Peter de Villiers was asked why Morne Steyn was touring (when most of his teammates had been excused), he answered: “Because he is not injured.”

Well neither are most of the 21, so pull the other one Pete. The thing is, if Steyn’s position was secure and Butch indeed injured, why not give a chance to Elton Jantjies or Patrick Lambie, or if you wanted experience in that position, what about Peter Grant, who has been given a seriously raw deal? Incidentally, Grant was the flyhalf for the corresponding dirt-tracker tour in 2007 and four years later is a much better player.

But Steyn has been picked and there is no question that he is here to either confirm or confound the sentiments (whether they be right or wrong) of the management.

More than anything they will be wanting him to engage his backs in play more than he has in Super Rugby, while continuing winning games with his boot …!

by Mike Greenaway

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