Should he stay or should he go?

2009-03-20 00:00

FRANCOIS Steyn may have a million dollars on his head, but he is playing like a pauper.

The precociously talented Sharks utility back has this season regularly hit the headlines, not because of the quality of his rugby, but because of the ongoing saga about where he should be playing his rugby and in which country.

Quite why there is this indecent rush for a career-defining move by Steyn only he and his agent will know. He already has World Cup and Currie Cup medals, he will certainly be a part of the Springbok squad to play the British Lions and he is still only 21 years old. But instead of being allowed to settle into his game and enjoy himself making his way up the rugby ladder, Steyn seems to be in a permanent, impatient spin. He is in need of solid advice and mature guidance, not distracting mind-boggling offers from afar; he needs to start playing the type of rugby we know he can.

But everything about the young player seems up in the air. Steyn and the Du Plessis brothers, Jannie and Bismarck, are the only regular Sharks players yet to sign for the 2010 season. The three, all with the same agent, are keeping their options open and so the stories about Steyn’s future keep circulating.

There has been the usual wishful Cape Town thinking and talking that Steyn will move to the Stormers at the end of the year to play flyhalf, but it is the French offer from Racing Metro that has more substance. Steyn has met with officials of the club and he is at the top of their shopping list with a reported R4 million a season offered for his services.

Sharks CEO Brian van Zyl has said that South African franchises could not compete financially with such offers, but is hoping the rugby environment in Durban and the carrot of playing for the Springboks “would strengthen our position in the negotiation process”.

The Sharks have tried to bring some stability to Steyn’s life. The youngster started the year not knowing whether he was to be regarded as a fullback, wing, centre or flyhalf, positions he has filled for both the Boks and the Sharks.

Sharks coach John Plumtree immediately provided that job security by insisting that Steyn would be his first-choice inside centre, a position he filled with distinction when the Boks won the World Cup in 2007. The Sharks’ backline coach, New Zealander Chris Boyd, agreed it was the 100-kg player’s natural position.

“Frans is still a young man with exceptional raw talent. With the skills set he currently possesses, he can be a world-class midfield back at inside centre,” Boyd said, adding that Steyn could still develop into a flyhalf in the future.

But Steyn, after five rounds of Super 14 rugby, has yet to find any consistent form. He seems distracted and uncertain. His rugby is erratic with flashes of brilliance punctuated, far too frequently, with moments of indiscretion, indecision, basic error and petulance. Too often he has ignored overlaps and gone in search of physical confrontation, or gone to ground when he should have passed or kicked. On Saturday he even started dropping passes.

Steyn, well-mannered and quiet off the field, has supreme confidence in his own ability on it, believing he can crash through defences and kick drops from 60 metres. He has won Test matches with his prodigious talents, but too often for a player of his quality he has placed his team under severe pressure with moments of rashness.

No one can doubt that Steyn, big, strong and brave, is a gifted player with a powerful break, strong defence and arguably the biggest boot in the world game.

Over the next three weeks, and with Pienaar injured, he will have the chance to parade his talents in his favoured position at flyhalf. His recent outings in that position — for the Springboks, against Italy and the Barbarians last year, and when he took over from Pienaar against the Reds on Saturday — have not inspired confidence. He has looked sluggish in thought and deed while seemingly determined to take on too much instead of involving those around him.

The Sharks, if they are to quickly regain the high road to the Super 14 semi-finals, need a flyhalf who plays with control and is the hub of the side, not a maverick who could go walkabout at a critical stage of a tight contest.

In the longer term, it might also help Steyn, the Sharks and the Springboks, if someone who has the young player’s ear tells him to forget about looking too far ahead in his rugby career.

Patience is not one of Steyn’s strong suits, but what he has, above all else, is time and he should be looking for his pension payout at the end of his career and not in these early formative years of a rugby player.

John Smit and Victor Matfield, two of the Springboks’ battle-hardened campaigners who are both 10 years older than Steyn, both tried club rugby in France after the 2007 World Cup and lasted just months before turning tail, terminating their contracts and rushing home. How will our boytjie from the Free State cope in such foreign, damp, uncomfortable climes?

Steyn, at present, is a confused and a confusing, frustrated and frustrating rugby player.

It is time for the real Francois Philippus Lodewyk Steyn to stand up.

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