In search of perfection

2009-08-06 00:00

WHILE their euphoric supporters have been up in the clouds after the Springboks’ rare back-to-back victories over the All Blacks, young Test fullback Frans Steyn has his feet firmly on the ground.

Steyn, who turned 22 in May, told The Witness that the Springboks are a number of tries short of the complete team.

“It means a lot to beat the All Blacks twice and put that many points on the board against them, but the real achievement would be winning the Tri-Nations and that’s what our goal is.”

But he dismissed extravagant claims after the Durban Test on Saturday that the current Springboks are now walking with the giants of South African rugby.

“We didn’t play much rugby in winning this [Durban] Test. We chased kicks and put pressure on the All Blacks and the points kept coming and coming from Morne Steyn. We still didn’t play that well. We just fed off their mistakes. If we play like we did against Australia at Ellis Park last year [when the Boks won 53-8], then we can start talking about our form.”

There has been ongoing debate about just where the precociously talented Steyn should play on the rugby field. He has been selected for the Springboks and the Sharks at flyhalf, centre, wing and fullback. Flyhalf was always his favoured position because he enjoys being close to the action and always involved. But he has struggled to settle there — and instant success is demanded at the highest level — while his powerful build (over 100 kg and 1,91 metres) at times left him looking cumbersome.

He had an excellent 2007 World Cup in France where he took over from the injured Jean de Villiers at inside centre, but this year, against the British Lions and the All Blacks, there was a huge hole at fullback following the retirement of Percy Montgomery and the injury to Conrad Jantjes.

Steyn has settled in quickly with Bok captain John Smit, for one, convinced that the young player “was born to play fullback” and, in terms of talent and physique, is tailor-made for the job.

He has the biggest, if not the most accurate, boot in international rugby whether he is kicking place-kicks or drop goals or simply blasting the ball downfield. He is safe and brave under the high ball, runs strongly and enjoys taking on the opposition in defence and attack.

At times, as the Sharks have found, the exuberance of youth bubbles over and he becomes impetuous, trying to bash down tacklers when he should pass or kick. But in the tight series against the British Lions, and now taking on the All Blacks, he has curbed his natural instincts and he has looked the part of a Test fullback.

But Steyn himself is not yet convinced and believes he has still to grow into the position.

“I have lots to work on. There is still lots to learn and I’m trying my best and enjoying it. But, you know,” he added almost whimsically, “you are very far from the action at the back there.”

Steyn, on Saturday, rarely missed the chance to become involved physically, furiously chasing the Boks’ many high kicks, making crucial tackles and often involving himself in tackles close to the breakdown.

He said he had particularly enjoyed Saturday’s win because it was his last game at his home ground at King’s Park. He is leaving to play for Racing Metro in France after the away leg of the Tri-Nations.

“I’ll probably play at flyhalf or centre at Racing Metro,” he said.

He hopes that he will be selected for the Springboks next year again, but said he has “no idea what the national selectors will do”.

Bok coach Peter de Villiers, in reference to centre Jean de Villiers, who will also be lost to South African rugby after the Tri-Nations, made his position clear this week.

“SA Rugby do not have a policy on the selection of overseas-based South African players, but I do. My policy is to first select players who are in South Africa to encourage our youth and to provide role models for young players. Only if I think we don’t have the talent here will I look overseas.”

After seasons of indecision, debate and positional switches, Francois Phillipus Lodewyk Steyn has finally found his natural home on a rugby field. The irony is that the Newlands Test will be the Bok fullback’s last game in South Africa and by October he will be based in Paris ... and back commuting between flyhalf, centre and fullback.

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