Boks: Just how welcome would Steyn be?

Francois Steyn (Getty Images)
Francois Steyn (Getty Images)

Cape Town - Three appearances - all off the bench - for South Africa since mid-September 2012.

That, remember, is the grand sum of Frans Steyn’s contribution to the Springbok cause over the course of some five and a half years.

It is a far from inconsiderable period, when you chew on the various ups and downs experienced in that time - in results, in playing staff, in coaching tenures, you name it - by the national team.

All he has done since he ceased to become a regular part of the Bok furniture in that spring of 2012 is earn three pretty fleeting, further cracks as a substitute in the home series against France last year - a short-lived productive phase for the Allister Coetzee regime.

Some observers might have been surprised, even then, that the often controversial, single-minded figure swelled his Test caps to 56 in that 3-0 clean-swept series, considering his proclamation two whole years earlier: “(I) accept that my days in a Springbok jersey (are) finally behind me … I have made peace with it.”

In 2014, of course, he walked out of the Bok squad following a monetary dispute with SARU; his father Piet was quoted as saying that the governing body “didn’t adhere to a contractual promise”.

Whatever the facts of the matter, it somehow summed up Steyn’s already increasingly tenuous relationship with Bok rugby - and sadly at the very prime of his career when he would have been of most potent value.

Yet his name has resurfaced in 2018, with reports that new Bok mastermind Rassie Erasmus lists him among several overseas-based targets, intended to bolster his squad for the fast-looming challenges of June and beyond.

Although he seems to have been around for the proverbial donkey’s years - inevitable considering his Bok debut aged a tender 19, back in 2006 - Steyn still only turns 31 early next week.

There have been many extremely decent 32-year-olds (his age once RWC 2019 comes along in Japan), across the spectrum of nationalities at World Cups, so Erasmus is unlikely to harbour any special fears on that front if the major jamboree is his ultimate goal - and you’d think it would be - for Steyn.

Class is permanent, and it is almost indisputably abundant in the notably versatile, brawnily-built backline customer with the unusually gigantic range on his kicking, both from hand and off the “plastic”.

Steyn is capable of pure genius on the rugby field, especially when the mood really grabs him. (There are times when it doesn’t, too: when he drifts a little languidly, infuriatingly from the intended team template.)

But that sense of mysteriousness often only adds to the allure of a genuine sports star, doesn’t it? 

I am an unreserved fan of Francois Philippus Lodewyk Steyn, in a pure rugby-related context, and certainly not instinctively averse at all to Erasmus’s apparent wish to welcome him back to the fold.

Why wouldn’t you be drawn to a player who was so influential in South Africa’s now distant, last World Cup triumph in 2007, and who famously thumped over as many as three own-half penalty goals in the decisive Hamilton match of the 2009 Tri-Nations ... again, regrettably, the Boks’ last sampling of glory in the main southern hemisphere competition?

Still, any assumption that Steyn may be lurking with fresh intent for the Boks must be tempered by recent, positive developments domestically in the two positions he is most likely to challenge firmly for: fullback and inside centre.

At No 15, the Bulls’ Warrick Gelant appears to have put some injury and associated, conditioning-related issues well behind him in recent weeks, producing sufficient bursts of artistry - and also doing the more mundane stuff competently - to have strong claims to first choice there.

The quite delightful way the lean machine that is Curwin Bosch, 20, scythed through the Highlanders defence a couple of times in Durban last Saturday - he’s not at all far off Steyn for kick length, either - only served as a further reminder that up-and-coming stocks in the last line of defence are rosy.

Similarly, there’s a satisfyingly mounting bun-fight for rights to the Bok No 12 shirt, with the Stormers’ Damian de Allende suddenly looking so much more like the sleight-of-hand factor he was in 2015 and Andre Esterhuizen of the Sharks - a midfield bruiser to match most Antipodean ones - coming off a hugely assertive personal showing against the Highlanders.

Make no mistake, a Steyn exuding full-blooded “buy in” to the 2018 Springboks would be marvellous to have around, as they say - and especially if, as is likely, some of their back-three resources may collectively be very wet behind the ears at Test level at the outset of Erasmus’s tutelage.

All I would caution is that there is a certain, occasionally complex history to his involvement with the national team.

Although Steyn, presently with Montpellier, had a return spell with the Sharks between 2012 and 2015, he has largely been overseas-based when it comes to club/franchise employ since 2009, which was when he first began a Racing Metro two-year (initial) deal reportedly worth 750,000 euros per season.

In relation to many SA-based Boks playing their trade predominantly - or totally - on local terrain, he is undoubtedly a “Mr Moneybags” and there may be some who, for whatever extent it is relevant, are envious, or who feel at very least that local loyalty must be more spiritedly rewarded in Bok selection.

Frans Steyn could be a valuable infusion to the Springboks shortly; they must guard against any likelihood that the package includes any semblance of “infection” ...

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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