British & Irish Lions

Lions tour | Steyn primed to be Bok impact maestro

Frans Steyn (Gallo Images)
Frans Steyn (Gallo Images)

The groundwork is now in place: Frans Steyn is increasingly likely to be a Springbok “supersub”, or perhaps even a bit more than that, when they lock horns with the British and Irish Lions in 2021.

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This follows the weekend confirmation - it had been less than a secret for a while - that he has put pen to paper in a two-year deal with the Cheetahs, beginning on 1 July.

On the slightly negative side, the much-travelled figure will be 34 by the time the blue-chip three-Test series comes around ... an advanced rugby age, though very far from unprecedented, either.

Counter-balancing that drawback, however, will be the fact that Steyn, by then, should have seen plenty of service back on the generally hard, fast surfaces of South Africa after several years in the chillier (and arguably less conditioning-conscious) rugby climes of France either with Racing Metro or, more recently, Montpellier.

That will be important as the hefty utility back, who stands 1.91m and tips the scales at well over 110kg, has not always been renowned for very finest of body shape in his decorated career.

But being based in Bloemfontein will also mean that Steyn gets to play much of the time at demanding high altitude; the city has an elevation of around 1,400m which is not far off the 1,750m of, for example, Johannesburg.

That is a relevant consideration, as the World Cup-holding Boks will tackle the Lions in those conditions twice over the three epic clashes, hoping to bust the tourists’ lungs, as it were, at FNB Stadium (first Test) and Ellis Park (last).

The single-minded but also popular-among-teammates player would bring gigantic experience to the Bok squad against the Lions, and in the interim period at international level, with his 67-cap career stretching back to late 2006.

He is also set, it seems, to earn the rare honour of a repeat series against those prestigious foes, as he played a significant part in the 2-1 SA triumph on the last occasion, against Paul O’Connell’s red-jerseyed outfit, in 2009.

Steyn was the fullback in the decisive first two Tests at Kings Park and Loftus, and then played a role as midfielder off the bench in the dead-rubber final meeting at Ellis Park, where then-coach Peter de Villiers fielded an “experimental” starting XV to preserve some of his premier troops for the additional demands of the Tri-Nations not long afterwards - which the Boks duly also won.

He was a valued member of Rassie Erasmus’s now famous group of “bomb squad” reserves when the Webb Ellis Cup was clinched in Japan late last year, and his suitability to feasibly play anywhere between flyhalf, either centre berth or the last line of defence meant the mastermind was able to feel comfortable enough whenever he opted for a six-two split between forwards and backs.

Steyn’s ability to play virtually anywhere in the back division will keep him fairly central, you would think, in ongoing Bok plans under new head coach Jacques Nienaber but with Erasmus hovering nearby as director of rugby.

There is also the knowledge that the man from Aliwal North can bang you over a pressure penalty from well within your own half to tilt a tense game at the death: bear in mind that namesake Morne Steyn did so from around 50 metres to seal the 2009 Lions series in the dramatic second Test in Pretoria.

Frans Steyn will join a very different Cheetahs set-up, of course, to the one he would have been part of had he stayed in Bloemfontein back in 2005, instead of shifting straight from school as a still-teenager to the Sharks, who he first debuted for at Currie Cup level in 2006.

The only thing the Free State outfit of then and now will have in common, as Steyn joins the fold, is being Currie Cup holders: they won it both in 2005 and 2006 (the latter shared with Blue Bulls) as well as the most recent tournament of 2019.

But the Cheetahs had also joined the then-Super 14 in 2006, Steyn’s first year in Durban, following the abandonment of the Cats franchise - a less than ideal alliance between the Gauteng-based Lions and Free State - whereas they are now part of the northern hemisphere’s PRO14 competition.

Popular Bloemfontein rugby personnel of the mid-2000s had included Os du Randt, Ollie le Roux, CJ van der Linde, Meyer Bosman, Willem de Waal and Kabamba Floors.

While he left the central city before being capped at first-class level there, he had represented the Free State Craven Week side, and been part of the first team at prestigious Grey College at the same time as the likes of Deon Stegmann, Heinrich Brussow and Hercu Liebenberg, younger brother of Bok hooker Tiaan.

So the Free State culture is already pretty well ingrained in Frans Steyn …

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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