Cape Town - So ... Frans Steyn’s tempestuous, peculiarly drawn-out personal “Springbok saga” is perhaps yet to be book-ended on the righthand side.
Springbok head coach Rassie Erasmus would clearly not have summoned the veteran, French-based utility factor to next weekend’s “alignment and conditioning camp” if he didn’t feel the burly back-liner could add value to his Rugby Championship and, more importantly, RWC 2019 causes this season.
Unless there is a sudden need - perhaps through injury-enforced reasons, now the likeliest chance - for gnarly hooker Bismarck du Plessis as the Test season develops, Steyn now seems the lone potential survivor, a dozen years on, from Jake White’s victorious World Cup 2007 Bok squad.
He was barely out of his teens when the Webb Ellis Cup was last lifted by South Africa, so purely on an age-related basis, calling up Steyn, now 32, for likely new green-and-gold involvement is hardly the wackiest development you’ll ever digest.
But it is fascinating all the same that a single-minded player who has so often effectively chosen the “count me out” route as far as Test activity is concerned - and had his share of dingdongs with SA Rugby - may be welcomed back into the 2019 fold.
Perhaps the wealthiest of current Bok players considering the lengthy duration (not far off 10 years) of his club tenure in lucrative European or Asian currency, Steyn, after all, has most recently earned a grand total of three Bok caps - and all as a substitute, in 2017 - over a period of seven years.
But here are five reasons Erasmus is, arguably, entitled to feel Steyn’s attributes remain irresistible:
1 Experience is priceless in a World Cup year
Latched onto significant street wisdom (a total of 56 Bok caps, despite the strangely long gaps), you could quickly add Steyn’s “been there, done that” credentials.
Apart from being well-travelled, with Tests planetwide and club/franchise employment in all of SA, France and Japan, he would be a useful addition to the RWC 2019 squad simply on the grounds of the novelty within the ranks of his 2007 winners’ medal.
Steyn was also a crucial part of the Springboks’ last, now rather distant title success in the Rugby Championship (then still Tri-Nations) of 2009.
In short, he’s a proven, major-event champ.
2 His astonishing versatility
This could almost be a good pub quiz question: in what role did Frans Steyn make his Test debut? It was, believe it or not, at left wing against Ireland at the old Lansdowne Road in late 2006.
But the tall, big-boned unit is more commonly associated, of course, with often yeoman service to the Boks at any of fullback, inside centre, outside centre and flyhalf.
The first two of that quartet of spots named have generally been where he has provided best and most customary value.
3 He may be best alternative to Handre Pollard in flyhalf playing style
While Test activity for Steyn at pivot has been scarce, with one start against Italy at Newlands in 2009 (a relatively mundane 26-0 win), he has had at least four stints in the role off the bench.
He would certainly add extra cover/depth in the berth, even if Erasmus opts for as many as three notably more specialist souls in the position for his squads this year (might it only be two, plus the Steyn possibilities there?).
Why he’d be good to have around is that he seems the closest to runaway first choice Pollard in style of play - prepared to take the ball flat - physical likeness (even bigger than the Bulls man) and associated ability to both make firm tackles and bust out of them.
While there’s every chance the smaller, silkier Elton Jantjies will remain the next in line at No 10, he is an entirely different flyhalf beast to either of Pollard or Steyn, so in the event – heaven forbid – of injury setback to the well-established incumbent, Steyn could be a relatively “like for like” gap-filling option if that’s what the Boks seek.
Bear in mind that Jantjies has not had his most productive Super Rugby year for the Lions, and also been plagued by a disciplinary indiscretion or two.
4 Inside centre stays problematic for Boks
Unless I am missing a trick, this is probably where Steyn most obviously comes back onto the Bok radar in 2019.
Certainly when it comes to Super Rugby this year, truly compelling performances in the important channel from either of established Test players Damian de Allende or Andre Esterhuizen have been in less than wondrous supply.
Towards the end of the campaign for the Stormers, De Allende was showing some signs of restoration of his dynamism of seasons past and clever footwork and offloading skills, but still short of the loftier levels he has been capable of.
As for Esterhuizen, he can be mightily assertive physically, but continues to fall shy of a more rounded, subtle feel to his game.
Both his Sharks outfit, and De Allende’s Stormers, struggled again in the “tries for” column this year (Stormers joint-worst with Sunwolves on 34 in ordinary season, Sharks next on 40) ... perhaps Erasmus seeks better zest in an important, attack string-pulling role at No 12 for the Boks?
5 The huge range on THAT boot …
Wherever you station him in your starting XV, or even when he is lurking as a multi-optional bench factor, Steyn possesses something you simply cannot ever strip from him: that enormous kicking boot.
Whether out of hand or at the posts, he gets superior range on the “pill” to most other rugby players in the world.
That makes him automatically attractive for red-letter, knockout matches - especially on slower surfaces - that may well be decided by goals landed: Steyn has an ever-ambitious penchant for dropped goals, and is capable of banging over penalties effortlessly from as distant as some 65 metres on his good days.
The following players will attend the Springbok alignment and conditioning camp from Sunday in Pretoria (in alphabetical order):
Schalk Brits (Bulls), Marcell Coetzee (Ulster, Ireland), Lood de Jager (Bulls), Pieter-Steph du Toit (Stormers), Rynhardt Elstadt (Toulouse, France), Eben Etzebeth (Stormers), Steven Kitshoff (Stormers), Vincent Koch (Saracens, England), Siya Kolisi (Stormers), Frans Malherbe (Stormers), Malcolm Marx (Lions), Bongi Mbonambi (Stormers), Tendai Mtawarira (Sharks), Franco Mostert (Gloucester, England), Marvin Orie (Lions), Kwagga Smith (Lions)
Damian de Allende (Stormers), Faf de Klerk (Sale Sharks, England), Aphiwe Dyantyi (Lions), Elton Jantjies (Lions), Herschel Jantjies (Stormers), Cheslin Kolbe (Toulouse, France), Dillyn Lleyds (Stormers), Willie le Roux (Toyota Verblitz, Japan), Cobus Reinach (Northampton Saints, England), Frans Steyn (Montpellier, France)
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