British & Irish Lions

'Adopted' Italian Steyn plays down Smith South African favouritism

Braam Steyn (Getty Images)
Braam Steyn (Getty Images)

Paris - South Africa-born back-rower Braam Steyn said on Tuesday he had been 'adopted' by Italy and denied any preferential treatment from new interim head coach Franco Smith.

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Steyn, 27, who grew up in the Eastern Cape, moved to club side Mogliano in 2012 and made his Azzurri Test debut in 2016 after qualifying on residency grounds.

Smith, 47, who made nine Springboks appearances in the late-1990s, took over from Conor O'Shea on a temporary basis for the ongoing Six Nations after last year's Rugby World Cup.

"I've been adopted by Italy and that is where I feel at home. My life and my country is Italy at the moment," Steyn said.

"I've been in Italy for seven years I'm seen as an Italian player, I'm not seen as a South African player, so in that context it doesn't really make a difference.

"He's not a person that treats one player in a certain way because he's South African or because he likes a player in a different way. He treats everyone equally which is a very good characteristic of his," he added.

The Azzurri started their campaign by stretching their winless run in the tournament to 23 matches with last Saturday's 42-0 defeat at Wales.

Steyn said he remained positive due to Smith's Italian history having had playing and coaching spells at clubs such as Treviso and Bologna.

"He knows the culture very well and speaks the language which is a plus point that can work easier with Italian players," Steyn said.

Steyn is a member of a seven-man leadership group charged with replacing veteran Test centurions Sergio Parisse and Leonardo Ghiraldini.

Parisse is expected to say his goodbye to Test rugby with a final home appearance against Scotland or England later in the competition while Ghiraldini retired last year.

"We've just started a new chapter, it's a clean slate, a new beginning and we have nothing to lose," he said.

"You can't always hold on to something from the past, and something that worked in the past," he added.

The Treviso forward remained modest with the fact he had taken over from Parisse in the number eight shirt.

"I don't feel like I'm replacing Sergio. I've been in the team for four years so I'm not replacing anyone. I've been around the block," said.

"I will never be Sergio, I'm Braam Steyn and I play the way I play trying to give the best for team," he added.

This weekend Steyn is set to face two South African-born second rows in France's Paul Willemse and Bernard Le Roux.

"I'll definitely keep an ear out for them speaking Afrikaans. I'll watch out for that so see if I can catch some triggers and depending on what they say I'll try and figure out what they do," he said.

"Bernard is a player that is all-round pretty good. He can do a little bit of everything because he's a loose forward playing at lock.

"Paul is a massive unit. He's a big boy, physical, strong and tall so we'll have to be careful with them," he added.

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