Tim Whitehead and Frans Steyn dominated my timeline when I was a youngster.
Both went to Grey, but the former was at Grey High and the latter at Grey College.
It’s ironic that they are now competing for the same position – inside centre – one they did not play when I watched them while I was at school.
The fact that Steyn had a lockdown on the position despite his poor form and shape, highlights everything that is wrong with South African rugby: the persistence of keeping a “so-called star player” in position despite others banging the door down.
In this case, Whitehead and a certain Meyer Bosman are the ones suffering.
Steyn was a year older than me and never formed part of discussion as the Under-14 dudes who were at the primary school were part of a pretty useless Selborne College Under-14 A team.
The year before as Under-13s, they were a schools team equivalent of the Bafana Bafana 4x4s of the early 1990s.
Whitehead was in our age range and with the good fortune of being taught by coaches who had to repel his amazing talents, the tactics circled around Grey PE were often about how to contain him.
If he did not sidestep you, he’d either bounce or get around you.
He was that good and even the best player in the Under-13 A team had respect for him.
Having watched Steyn as an Under-14, Under-16 and first team player, it was clear the world was his oyster.
As a number 10, he was bigger than most props his age and running through a back line from first receiver was his modus operandi.
Not much has changed from the Steyn I saw dismantle Selborne 38-13 in 2005.
It was a close score in East London terms as 50-point blankings were the norm.
He’d just run straight and subtle switches of angles ensured he took the path of least resistance.
He could pass, but that was a last resort. It’s a skill he needs to rediscover.
It’s jamming what is a massively talented Sharks back line.
It needs ball like the Karoo needs rain and Steyn is not the kind of centre to break the drought.
Three tries in four matches, not even the Stormers are that impotent.
A coach with more balls should have sent Steyn for corrective training much earlier to get the buggar into shape.
Manu Tuilagi aside, centres should not look like props.
Sometimes a spell on the periphery can help sort out a player’s mind and get them to focus.
It may happen elsewhere, but not in South Africa, as players are sometimes given demigod status.
The Steyn of the Brumbies match was the Steyn I saw eight years ago.
His path was blocked by players of his size, if not bigger. Never had I seen him so clueless, with his apparent selfishness affecting the rest of his team-mates.
Those below him happen to be some of the best passers the South African game currently has. Getting the ball efficiently to the wing in the manner that they do more than makes up for their size deficiency.
Isn’t it weird that the Sharks played some of their best rugby last season when Whitehead was the inside centre?
They did beat the Stormers twice last season, a feat teams do not manage so easily.
Steyn was not part of those two momentous efforts.
He has been dropped, but out of desperation more than anything else.
What message does that send out?
Well, something along these lines: “I’m the Springbok centre and whether you like it or not, I’ll play irrespective of form.”
Makes you wonder why the Sharks back line has been spermless.