Go with Steyn!

Daryn Katz

Francois Steyn should have been a Springbok centurion by now. He’s accumulated just over half of those caps, but it’s a stockpile that’s well below expectation for such an immense rugby talent who was 19 when he made his Test debut in 2006.

Often described as an enigma, Steyn has spearheaded his own unique journey. What isn’t a mystery is the man’s obvious talent, one of the most gifted rugby figures of his generation.

On the rugby battlefield, Steyn is a heavy artillery piece and Rassie Erasmus must unleash this considerable firepower at the 2019 Rugby World Cup.

The Grey College prodigy last played for South Africa in 2017, recalled to face France after a three-year absence when both Handre Pollard and Pat Lambie were ruled out. In 2015, personal reasons forced Heyneke Meyer’s hand and the player wasn’t included in his World Cup squad.

Steyn, 32, must surely view this year’s global showpiece as a last opportunity to reclaim his place on centre stage and to make peace with the ghost of missed opportunity.

He may be in the twilight of his career but he’s still younger than Percy Montgomery and Os du Randt were in 2007, younger than Jean de Villiers and Fourie Du Preez were in 2015, and he’ll be younger than both Duane Vermeulen and Tendai Mtawarira come kick-off time in Japan.

Having joined Montpellier in 2016, Steyn routinely partners compatriot centre Jan Serfontein. Injuries to both Aaron Cruden and Johan Goosen have also seen him log minutes at pivot (the position where he launched his professional career) during what is reportedly his final season for the Top 14 side. 

Barring scrumhalf, Steyn has played in every position across the Springbok backline and done so effectively. His ability to slot in comfortably at either 12 or 15 is arguably beyond peer in the international game. He remains a commanding and intimidating on-field presence, and he has the ability to single-handedly change the momentum of a game.

Erasmus has stated that he’ll only select players who are hungry to play for South Africa. Invited to the latest alignment camp, Steyn must now convince the coach that he still has the desire, along with the sharpness to back it up.  If he passes that test, Steyn will be the best utility back available to Erasmus.

The Bok coach has yet to call up Serfontein and it’s looking increasingly unlikely that he will as the Test season looms. Steyn is thus the most formidable backup to Damian de Allende in possibly his best position and the one in which he won the Webb Ellis Cup in 2007.

Handre Pollard has in the past shifted to 12 when Elton Jantjies has come on to play flyhalf, but Pollard is clearly Erasmus’s first-choice 10. Crucially, Steyn has the closest game to Pollard amid all the options at Erasmus’ disposal, able to fiercely defend his channel as well as boss the gain line.

If Pollard winds up crocked or suspended, Erasmus must look to Steyn to fill this void.

Likewise, with a crop of fresh-faced wings, Steyn would provide stability and security to the back three in the event of Willie Le Roux’s absence. Promising youngsters like Curwin Bosch, Damian Willemse, Andre Esterhuizen and Warrick Gelant simply don’t yet have the Test experience or the accomplished versatility to compare.   

Some may argue that Steyn was just as green when he was instrumental in winning the World Cup. But the aforementioned quartet has yet to put in shifts as special as Steyn did when he first burst onto the scene.

They are all wonderful talents who will hopefully go on to play for South Africa for years to come. But the grand contest that is almost upon us calls for a cannon and not a pistol.

Erasmus must put his faith in the grizzled warhorse that is Frans Steyn to deliver.

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Follow Daryn on Twitter: @KatzDaryn

- Daryn Katz

Let's chat

  • Vossie

    One does wonder why Serfontein is not favored by Rassie? Certainly with the lack of inside centers Serfontein had to be added to the squad already. It seems that Steyn has to be the go to man come RC time and there’s no doubt that he will wear the 12 jersey. How quickly will he adapt with the likes of Pollard/Am/Kriel? One thing that is for certain is he does boast a good offload game and his distribution is normally spot on, something that has been lacking since the days of Jean & Jacques. Hopefully he can ad much needed firepower at inside center and potentially build a very good partnership with Pollard at 10 and Am at 13.

    • Tobokani

      Serfontein has just had ankle surgery unfortunately so hez not available for selection

    • Barry

      It is well and good making predictions about who will be in the mix and who will not, based on the inclusion of a number of European players to the greater squad, but the reality is that only one of these guys is a player of color!

      I despise racial selections in sport, most South Africans do, but it is a reality that Erasmus unfortunately face. The injuries to players like Beast and Kolisi will increase this pressure and may force Erasmus into some unconventional selections – form entirely aside! Esterhuizen and Steyn statistically both have a bigger claim to the12 Jersey than De Allende, but don’t be too shocked if neither start!

      I am a great Frans Steyn fan, but we need to see that he still has the pace and desire – often opinions are based on seasons past. Good luck to him!

      • Dean Bright

        He most certainly can play a type of Os/Percy/Skinstad role at the World Cup. Those guys did wonders for the Boks in ’07. Let’s not forget that they were a few years older than Frans. It makes sense to pick Frans as one of the centers and a backup flyhalf. I don’t think Damian Willemse’s form warrants his inclusion. He’s played most of his rugby at 15 this season and do you think he would win you a World Cup final if picked at 10? I highly doubt it.

  • Herman

    Can anyone tell me what Frans Steyn has done for the Boks that gives him this mythical ‘world beater’ label ??? He once could kick a penalty from 55 metres out but these days just about every team has at least one player with that ability. I’ve been watching him in his more recent club games and he most certainly doesn’t set the world on fire. A flash here and there and plenty of cocks ups as well. Add to that he’s disruptive personality and you wonder what all the fuss is about.

    His only benefit would be he is tailor made for Rassie’s conservative ( dom krag ) game plan that has added nothing to SA rugby since 2009. Heyneke Meyer raised quite a few players from the dead to bolster his failed 2015 WC campaign and it seems Rassie is going to repeat that folly. He will be plucking players from various clubs overseas and please bear in mind it is still only club level and not international level, each playing in a different style under different coaches.

    For the RC a mere three weeks away he will try and blend this lot into a cohesive unit ready to take on the AB’s, Argentina and the woeful Aussies probably their only chance of maybe poxing a win. Last year taken overall the Boks flopped with a lucky 50% win ratio losing to five countries, so there has been no improvement if one factors in that woeful AC only lost 4 games in 2017 to Rassie’s 7 last year. And Rassie had the luxury of picking a plethora of mercenaries to turn the sinking ship around. Nothing seemed to change despite that infusion. What is going to make this WC year any different ?.

    The AB’s have been building their squad for four years, Wales and Ireland and most other countries including Argentina the same. None of them import mercenaries and all have many players plying their trade overseas. The Aussies don’t either but they are just as woeful as we are.

    Rassie should have built on the 2017 ‘successes’ imo but it’s now too late. The Proteas also took a load of ‘past their sell by date’ players to the ODI WC and have failed horribly once again. Proteas now ranked 5th in ODI rankings and Boks currently 5th in the rugby rankings and heaven knows where that will be after the WC. Bafana ranked 72 and currently bottom of the log in their pool at Afcon. Oh boy way to go SA but don’t say I didn’t warn you. Cheers.

    • Deon

      I have to agree, domkrag rugby will only get you so far. This thing in SA rugby about big 10 and 12 is not getting us anywhere. What happened to creative 10 12 and 13 combination.

      • Whynger

        And who would these creative 10, 12 and 13’s be. We really have sooo many to choose from. The reason why Herman sees 2017 as having any “successes”, is because so many Lions players were blooded in a dismal season. Of course, the Lions players selected, had nothing to do with the poor performances. It was all the fault of the coach. And the CWC campaign was a failure, because we do not have any world class cricket players left, now that many of the formerly world class players had passed their sell by date.

        Unfortunately, as far as rugby is concerned, we really haven’t had many world class players since the “team that Jake built” broke up after the 2011 world cup. Unfortunately, the coaches that coached in the 2004 to 2011 era, are still with us and so is the game plan that was built around those players, who were very good at the execution of the plan. Now the coaches, including the “Great Saviour” are looking to either replace those players with players who resemble them, or mold other players with totally divergent abilities into the game plan.

        That is why Steyn is back. He does not have to adapt to the other players, they have to adapt to him. He is what remains of the team and the game plan that all our coaches wanted to coach. Jake’s team. Jake’s plan.

        Anyway, Frans does not adapt to anything. The world has to adapt to him. He sees himself as a superstar. It would be like asking Christiano Renaldo to adapt to the Portugese team.

        • Herman

          Whynger if AC built his Bok team around a very successful Lions team back in 2016 we wouldn’t have had this pathetic Bok team since that made us the laughing stock of world rugby. Of course you couldn’t do that anyway because AC himself had no idea how to coach expansive rugby and the Lions players that were brought in piecemeal were judged according to that failed system.

          At the time I said AC would be a disaster and Ackerman, as ‘green’ as he was should be brought in to lead us into a new era where expansive rugby was the cornerstone of our game plan. The rest is of course history and Rassie continued the downward slide last year. Ackers would by now have had four years to change the course of Bok rugby for the better and we wouldn’t have had to rely on all these over the hill mercenaries who make ‘guest’ appearances for the Boks at the will of their employers. That’s no way to build a team culture and continuity.

          Perhaps if the Boks were more successful and were paid more less players would have left our system for greener pastures. Like the AB’s it’s stay at home and play for the AB’s or be on your merry way. That’s why they are No. 1 and we are hanging on to 5th spot on the world rankings.

          By the way if your Lions comment was to the blame the Boks failures on the Lions players in the team you are sorely mistaken. The Lions have lost many of those players of that period to Europe since 2016 so they obviously rated them. Also Ackerman has this year been nominated as Coach of the Year in the highly competitive Gallagher Premiership in England the largest competition numbers wise in the world.

          Instead we now have old Smiley Rassie conning us into believing he has it all worked out. If last year was anything to go on we are in for yet another rude awakening my friend and don’t say I didn’t warn you. Cheers.

        • Deon

          And that is the problem with our rugby. One dimensional. All the 12’s playing super rugby in SA the same. I can’t falter the players they don’t pick themselves and they don’t create the game plans. They play according a system that is taking us backwards.

  • John Comyn

    He has held his own at Montpellier for some time now in some pretty decent company.

    • Whynger

      We don’t ask for much anymore, do we. A player who is to save our team from mediocrity should not hold his own in a club league, he should dominate the league.

  • Dean Bright

    There are no other players in the current Springbok setup who can consistently kick 55 meters. He’s actually a better distributor than any of the other centers we have, hence why he has been picked at flyhalf for the Sharks, Springboks, Montpellier and Racing Metro. What’s the fuss about? He’s been consistent for 2 of the best clubs in Europe and the World. You don’t play 92 caps for Montpellier by being useless. Add the 56 caps at International level.

    What is Super Rugby? Certainly not international level. Most of the games are dire these days. Compare the fan attendances. Northern hemisphere rugby has caught up if not surpassed the South. Only NZ hold firm. Seen the World rankings lately? That’s right, 3 out of the top 5 are from the North. Where’s your wonderful Argentina in all that? 10th!

    And btw Argentina recently called up 5 players from overseas to their squad, one being Nicolas Sanchez, their most important player. Australia do pick overseas players. They’ve recently opened the door for James O’ Connor to return to the fold. Rassie hasn’t had the squad for 4 years, did you forget? He’s only been around for one season.

    This Super Rugby just cemented the fact that we don’t have enough depth there to pick the best possible Springbok squad. Who should be picked that missed out? I mean really, no Super Rugby had a more than 50% win rate. That’s shocking. Bring on the ultimate pro’s – Faf, de Klerk, Coetzee, Reinach, Koch, Kolbe and Steyn. These guys had brilliant seasons overseas. They were included in the best chosen teams from their respective leagues.

    • Herman

      Dean you say SR is not test rugby yet rate the mercenaries who play in CLUB rugby overseas. I agree those teams are loaded up with internationals but what about our pathetic four Franchises who currently have at least 15 ‘Boks’ each in their teams ? The other Conferences likewise, so in reality it’s just as tough.

      If we had to choose five teams to represent SR to play the five best from each European championship who would we choose based on recent performances ? The top four NZ Franchises plus the Jaguares imo. SA and Aussie would not have a single team in the mix. Where does that put Rassie’s 44 man Bok squad then. Not even in the race.

      My biggest problem is by bringing those guys in from overseas at short notice it does nothing for building a team culture and continuity which is the cornerstone of any successful team, just ask the AB’s, Wales, Ireland etc and compare it to our failures over the years. Cheers.

    • Whynger

      Frans is not a distributor. Yes, he is actually a good passer of the ball and in all a skillful player (when I last saw him anyway). However, he does not really distribute, especially at flyhalf, because he believes that he is the only player on the field capable of winning the match. Therefore, he will only “distribute” when he feels that he cannot use the ball himself. Players like him make excellent wings, if they have the speed, because their self belief can carry them through most tight spots. Self belief is usually a positive characteristic, but an excess of it is not desirable in a flyhalf or an inside centre.

  • Nick

    Hermie I think your understanding of the term CLUB is misinformed. It does not mean the same thing as ‘club rugby’ in SA which suggests an amateur, grassroots entity. Like Liverpool FC or other such organisations, those clubs you disparagingly refer to are the top level [under international] of the game in the north. To start with they have far bigger budgets as we all know, but it goes further than that. In many ways they now operate at a higher level generally than we do. A SAFFA with ‘club’ experience is at an advantage, not a disadvantage.

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