Kickers could prove Lions' trump card
June 8, 2009
Francois Steyn's kicking prowess could be a boost to the Springboks © Getty Images
Are South Africa going to rue some of their selections for the Test series against the British & Irish Lions?
I could not help asking myself that when I heard a squad announced devoid of a specialist fullback and lacking depth at tight-head prop. John Smit is going to wear the No.3 jersey come the Test series and will be backed up by Deon Carstens, who has evolved into a loose-head. It all sounds a little too risky and unnecessarily so considering that Jannie du Plessis was overlooked for selection.
Who will play fullback for the Boks? Well, it depends on what rumour you believe following the broken leg that Conrad Jantjes suffered. First it was said to be Jaque Fourie, who played one Test there when they narrowly beat the All Blacks in Rustenburg back in 2006.
But then the rumour-mill went into overdrive and JP Pietersen, who has previously played there but is definitely now a wing, was said to be the man. The idea was that Jongi Nokwe's explosive pace could be accommodated and that Pietersen will also offer greater attacking options from the back. Never mind the fact that he does not kick particularly well and there are core fullback skills that one would have to hone over time.
Heyneke Meyer's words in the South African Afrikaans media the past week were sobering. He made the point that the Boks could find themselves up the creek without a paddle if they do not pick kickers for the Lions series. That is why Frans Steyn is a potentially appealing selection. Of course, he did not play there at all during the Super14. He started the Sharks' campaign and inside centre and covered at fly-half when Ruan Pienaar was injured.
As for Pienaar, het got precious little opportunity to work at his goal-kicking, with Rory Kockott mostly entrusted with the duty in the Super14. Morne Steyn was South Africa's best all-round No.10 in the Bulls' march to the Super14 title, but word is that Pienaar has the inside track and will start.
Springbok coach Peter de Villiers should be under no illusions about the risks attached to playing a running game against the Lions. South Africa outscored the Lions by nine tries to three in the 1997 series, but still came off second best.
On top of this, some interesting patterns have emerged in the Lions' first three games on tour in the Republic. Two of the victories were somewhat fortuitous, but over three games the Lions have succeeded with 24 out of 25 kicks at goal. The tourists are clearly strong at the basics and at the weekend dominated the Cheetahs at set-piece.
Man for man and pound for pound you have to back the Springboks on their sheer talent. Rugby in the northern hemisphere appears to be at a low ebb. However, there is something about a Lions squad with Ian McGeechan as guiding hand that leaves one with a nagging feeling that an upset may be on the cards. He has taken the cream of four countries and does know how to mould them into something that can be highly competitive.
I'm still not convinced they are going to beat South Africa, but then again, you just get the feeling Bok coach Peter de Villiers did not quite cover all his bases with his selections. And that, at the very least, should give the Lions hope.
On another matter, I have seen the opinion voiced a few times Down Under prior to a deal being struck that the SANZAR alliance does not need South Africa. It is rather strange that this view often came from media in Australia, a country that did not contribute a single country to this year's Super14 semi-finals.
South Africa are world champions and now home to the Super14 champions in the Bulls. It's time for our 'friends' Down Under to show us a little respect because we are, after all, the champions.