Jake White has lauded Morne Steyn’s professionalism, recalling the veteran flyhalf in an overhauled Vodacom Bulls backline to charge at the Lions on Saturday. DYLAN JACK reports.

The Bulls director of rugby made sweeping changes to a backline that includes three positional and three personnel changes for the Jukskei derby in Pretoria.

TEAM: Bulls shake up backline for derby

One of those changes sees Steyn named to make his first Vodacom United Championship start of the season. With Johan Goosen fit and Chris Smith providing a steady anchor to the backline, opportunities have been sparse for the veteran.

Steyn is set to hang up his boots at the end of the season and, speaking ahead of the clash with the Lions, White explained the situation around the former Springbok.

“One of the things that I’ve learned over the years is the best players are the ones who don’t want age to count. Schalk Burger, the best player in the world at 21, didn’t want to hear that his time was going to come. John Smit wanted to be a Bok when he was young. The same with Bismarck du Plessis. They didn’t want me to use the phrase ‘your time will come’. If they thought they were good enough, they put pressure on me as a coach. The challenge is that they get older, then they say ‘please don’t throw away experience’.

“That’s part of the challenge with Morne. He has been unbelievably professional, but he knows when Johan Goosen and Chris Smith are playing well its difficult for him. He’s finishing and when you are looking to plan, it’s difficult for him. The nature of who he is, as competitive as he is, he doesn’t want to be sitting in the stands. Still, I have to compliment him. He didn’t know he would be playing in another [British & Irish] Lions series.

“I had a one-on-one with him and said, ‘who knows, you might kick the winning kick in the URC and you ride the white horse out of Pretoria’. But we can’t plan like that. The reality is sport doesn’t work like that.

“He is an utter professional, a fitness fanatic and a great role model. The biggest challenge is the thing that he wanted, is the thing he must expect the juniors to want as well. That’s part of what I have to manage him through as well. When you are a winner, it’s difficult to accept you are coming to an end.”

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Other changes to the backline see Wandisile Simelane, David Kriel and Cornal Hendricks all retain their starting roles from the team that played against the DHL Stormers, but all three have been shifted to different positions.

“To be honest, I don’t know,” White admitted when asked whether he felt this was his most effective backline combination. “What I’m trying to say is I know what I can get with Harold [Vorster] and Lionel [Mapoe] and Cornal at 12. I have seen those combinations.

“It’s not just about one guy in one position. It’s about the combination, and how we look as an interchangeable backline. Athletically, understanding the game, in terms of where we are, it is a backline that knows what it has to do. That’s all I can ask for, they have done their homework and use the skills we have picked them for. It’s a collective unit showing me that this backline works. With two guys who have played wing, there’s no lack of pace or game understanding. Hoping that combo is one we can use in the next couple of weeks in different games.

“It’s not a risk, because the long-term goal is to get all backline players to get comfortable in different positions. In the old days, the ball used to go from nine to 10. Now it can go from 9 to 11, and the wing carries from first phase. The shape of the game has changed.

“It is getting there, the true test is in the next couple of games as we interchange different guys. The measurement is not just this season. It will be over the next few years, based on how we keep this group of players and build combinations. We want to get to 10 or 11 guys in the national setup, but then we have to develop them in our franchise. That’s the long-term plan of where we are.”

Photo: Sydney Mahlangu/BackpagePix

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