As South Africa struggles to progress through a new post-World Cup era, an influential figure is holding them back.
Springboks coach Heyneke Meyer speaks of youth leading his side out of their form slump, but his continued investment in old-school first five-eighths Morne Steyn contridicts those sentiments.
With Steyn at the helm, there are doubts whether the Boks can progress.
Meyer made two changes to meet the All Blacks challenge in Dunedin on Saturday. Flip van der Merwe comes in for suspended lock Eben Etzebeth and combative Bath flanker Francois Louw replaces Marcell Coetzee, who drops to the bench.
But it is Meyer's persistent loyalty and stout defence of Steyn, who he mentored for four years at the Bulls, that is causing consternation.
Most pivots have the ability to vary their game - to create - in addition to playing the percentages. Steyn does not. He presents no element of doubt. What you see is what you get.
His tactical conservatism is a handbrake Meyer is not willing to release, just yet.
Steyn is stuck in the past; in the days when the Bulls were the best in Super Rugby (2009-10), when the law makers turned global rugby into a horrid kick-feast. Back then, he was pivotal to the Boks when they last won in New Zealand.
Those days are gone. You can now not expect to beat the All Blacks with penalties and dropped goals alone.
The fact the Bulls finished fifth this year before being trounced by the Crusaders should have been ample evidence Steyn remains incapable of changing his philosophy, one which stifles any attacking instincts his outsides may foster.
"We've won a Tri Nations with the same game-plan and in 2007 we won the World Cup with these tactics. We have to stay with this strategy," Steyn reckoned, going on to notably forget the manner of the Chiefs' Super Rugby success this year, or recognise the Reds built last year's breakthrough on frantic attack.
"All teams that win the Super 15 are the teams that kick the most. The Crusaders, the Reds, the Bulls when we won it," Steyn said.
"At the Bulls we get some grief for kicking too much. It's not kicking the ball away; it's kicking for a purpose. People out there don't have the stats."
Meyer is a fan of tradition and Steyn's low-risk style at test level, but he may soon be reluctantly forced into an alternative.
"I'm a big beleiver that a guy shoiuld stick to his strengths. I think Morne is a great player in his own right and he is a guy who doesn't make a lot of mistakes. So I don't think he must change the way he plays," Meyer said.
"I've said to the players in 100 percent language that they understand that after these two tests and we go home, I'll know exactly the guys I want to go forward with."
Steyn's failure to adapt to the fast-paced trend could see him overtaken by the likes of Johan Goosen, who is considered the future in South Africa. Patrick Lambie is another option, but the Boks favour him at fullback.
"He is a quality player," Meyer said of Goosen. "He reminds me a lot of the greats at the same age. He has the whole packet, he's mentally tough, he has a great kicking game and a lot of speed."
Throwing Goosen into a starting role against the All Blacks - after his rookie cameo from the bench in Perth last week - could have broken the 20-year-old prospect.
But, after a long season, Steyn admitted he needed a "break" and Meyer could use that as an out to inject Goosen for the Boks' final two games in the Republic.
"I've played almost 80 minutes of every game this year," Steyn said. "These days you're playing rugby from January until December. Somewhere you need a break. When that happens guys like Goosen will step up.
"It's not so much fatigue. It's more about mentally getting away. I can feel good but maybe my body is tired. I'm still hungry and ready to go."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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