Springbok skipper Jean de Villiers has come out in defence of misfiring flyhalf Morne Steyn ahead of Saturday’s Rugby Championship encounter against the All Blacks in Dunedin.
The veteran Bulls pivot has struggled to regain his match-winning form this season and is in desperate need of a break, having played in all six of the Springboks’ Tests in 2012 after being a key figure for the Bulls in Super Rugby.
Highly regarded for his tactical nous and accurate goal-kicking, Steyn has been uncharacteristically unreliable in these aspects of the game, resulting in a public outcry for his axing.
Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer has been focal of his support for Steyn, and the Springbok captain has followed suit, saying, "He is a great player and he has the backing of the team and the coach.
"The pressure never really drops from him. He takes it all in his stride and I think he is definitely in a good space."
De Villiers and Bryan Habana are the only survivors from the team that secured their first-ever win over the All Blacks in Dunedin four years ago. He said a change in venue, from Carisbrook to Forsyth Barr Stadium, will make for a fresh challenge.
"It is a totally different game in a new stadium. We've got our own goals and we need to make our own memories now," said De Villiers.
"We believe we can be competitive and, if we can turn the negatives into positives, I think we can get a good result."
The 31-year-old conceded he is feeling the ever-increasing pressure on him as captain and the team on a whole and conveyed optimism rather than confidence.
"It's a great privilege to captain your country but it's not an easy job. There will be tough times. We need to pull together and believe in the systems we have put in place. If we can put a good 80 minutes together, you never know."
Steyn echoed De Villiers’ sentiments that nothing but a complete, 80-minute performance would be enough against the all-conquering All Blacks.
“We know it’s going to be tough … we’re in All Black country. It’s going to be tough but we want to improve on last weekend. I think we started off well but we didn’t finish well so we just want to play an 80-minute South African rugby game,” said Steyn.
Steyn felt he and Ruan Pienaar combined well last weekend and said he was looking forward to build on the partnership on Saturday.
“Ruan helped me a lot with the kicking game. He’s got a great kicking game in his game. This weekend as well I’m playing with him so I’m looking forward to him relieving the pressure always on me to do all the kicking.”
Steyn didn’t buy into the discussions of playing under the roof at Forsyth Barr Stadium and how it would benefit the goal-kickers. “If the roof is there or not it’s all about the 80 minutes on the field,” he said.
He acknowledged that the major challenge for the team was to rebuild following the loss of experienced stars such as John Smit, Victor Matfield and Fourie du Preez.
He said they have experienced some growing pains but believes progress is being made.
“Especially in the forwards there are a couple of new guys playing in their fourth or fifth Test so there’s a couple of youngsters but I think we are growing as a team and I think that’s the most important thing.”