Just how will Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer go into any international this year without the boot of Frans Steyn?
The big midfielder underlined his importance with four massive penalties and a conversion for a total of 14 points as the Cell C Sharks returned to the top of the Vodocom Super Rugby table with a 25-12 win over the Lions at Ellis Park on Saturday.
Not only did Steyn’s massive bombs – two of them were over 55 metres – create the small difference between the two sides early in the second half, he also sent another strong message to the national selectors that he is back.
Speaking of sending messages, there were a number of players who did their best to remind the Bok selectors they were not done – chief among them fullback Lwazi Mvovo, who eventually scored the only try of the game and sealed the match with his blistering pace as he chipped and collected from a turnover with 13 minutes to go. Mvovo’s 154 running metres were a key element in the victory for the Sharks.
It was ironic that the one thing the Lions had sought not to do – and successfully so for most of the match – was run out of their own half, which had cost them so dearly against the Crusaders a week ago at the same venue.
But as Stefan Watermeyer got isolated, the Sharks midfielders turned the ball over and Mvovo sped away, dealing the Lions a crippling blow they wouldn’t recover from.
The other player to send a big message to the selectors was Lions midfielder Lionel Mapoe, who showed enough class and passion to be a major headache for the Sharks and certainly was the pick of the Lions on a chilly Johannesburg night.
Still, considering the amount of ball the Sharks had, they would have expected to be ahead and not tied at 6-all at halftime after dominating every facet of play in the opening 40 minutes.
They even had a try disallowed after Willem Alberts was quick enough to pounce on a ball ripped by Watermeyer from the hands of Tendai Mtawarira, but replays showed he had tugged Watermeyer’s jersey on the way to the line and the try wasn’t allowed.
The Sharks had the best of the opening exchanges, with 100-cap winger Odwa Ndungane setting the tone for the game by breaking out of his half from the kickoff and enjoyed a memorable centenary before going off with a limp in the second half.
Two Fred Zeilinga penalties gave the Sharks an early 6-0 lead, but the flyhalf was forced off later as his hamstring gave in, giving Steyn the opportunity to show his kicking skills from flyhalf.
And in the second half he stepped up and swung the game. The first kick was from 55 metres, followed by one from 58.
Two minutes later he pushed one from 62 metres just right and followed that a minute later with a drop goal from 61 metres that just faded at the death.
The best Lions chance came when Derick Minnie was driven over from close range after a Courtnall Skosan break but with replays inconclusive, referee Craig Joubert ruled that Jean Deysel had held him up as he went over.
Boshoff took the penalty to make it 12-9 before Mvovo set off on another blistering run, this time tackled by Mapoe metres from the line. The Sharks got a penalty right in front of the posts and Steyn had no hesitation in extending the lead.
Boshoff pulled one back and made it a three point ball game, but then Mvovo didn’t make any mistakes with his second run, putting the Sharks way too far ahead to be pulled back.
Steyn missed with another 48-metre sideline effort before slotting the final penalty seven minutes from time to give the Sharks the double.
Lions - Penalties: Marnitz Boshoff (3).
Cell C Sharks - Try: Lwazi Mvovo. Conversion: Frans Steyn. Penalties: Fred Zeilinga (2), Steyn (4).