Cape Town - Is Frans Steyn’s utility value going to see him freshly considered as a fullback by the Springboks?
It is one inference pundits may draw from the composition of national coach Heyneke Meyer’s 36-strong first training squad of the season for a three-day get-together in this city shortly, which rather glaringly features only one specialist No 15 in incumbent Zane Kirchner – and even he is currently injured – from the Bulls.
These remain early days in Bok terms, with Super Rugby obviously most firmly on the minds of the country’s leading locally-based players, and Meyer has emphasised that “this group is by no means a final one for the June Tests”.
In addition, players from the Kings were not considered for the camp as they only get back from their Australasian tour at the end of this weekend and the Bok exercise starts on Sunday.
But that franchise is not exactly loaded with obvious Test candidates in the last line of defence anyway, so it suggests that Meyer is hardly doing cartwheels over the volume of resources available to him at fullback.
Solid but unspectacular, Kirchner fits into his largely conservative playing formula from last season, and with no room found in the swollen group for such customers as the big, experienced Hennie Daniller of the in-form Cheetahs or the Stormers’ more diminutive Joe Pietersen or Gio Aplon (both of whom offer positional versatility), the status quo may be intended initially in the 2013 campaign, when South Africa first tackle limited foes like Italy and Scotland.
Although he has mostly been serving the high-tempo Cheetahs on the wing this season, there has also been a public clamour for the notably elusive Willie le Roux – he cannot be accused of lacking X-factor – to be elevated to a higher stage.
A personal gut feel is that, rightly or wrongly, he is simply not a “Meyer type of player”.
Meyer’s options have also been curtailed, in fairness, by untimely long-term injuries to another Stormers-based fullback, Jaco Taute (serious anterior cruciate ligament damage) and the Sharks’ tenacious Louis Ludik who is tipped to be sidelined for some three months with a shoulder problem.
Taute was the designated cover for Kirchner on the bench when the Boks played their last Test of 2012 against England at Twickenham, where they scraped home to ensure an unbeaten record in the northern hemisphere.
Of course Pat Lambie, rightly installed among the three flyhalves in the squad, still offers possibilities at fifteen, although he has specialised to an overwhelming extent in the pivot slot – blossoming all the time – and it seems unlikely he would be suddenly asked to change focus once more.
But that brings the name of Steyn back into sharp focus: he was listed among several centres announced by Meyer on Tuesday, although everyone knows that he has much prior experience -- at all levels -- of No 15 duty.
That is where the Sharks have moved him back to recently after some indecisive showings at inside centre and, with Ludik out, he may get an extended run at No 15.
Steyn, who has also been battling some conditioning issues, did not look comfortable at fullback despite the Durban-based outfit seeing off the Crusaders at Kings Park last weekend, being caught out of position on occasion and sometimes seemingly a little off the pace of the game.
But Meyer will know as much as anyone does that the single-minded, moody competitor is a class footballing act, and it is possible that more regular stationing in the last line will see him re-acclimatise progressively to the role.
With his booming boot and renowned physical stoutness, he immediately ticks several boxes for a fullback’s requirements.
All it may take are a couple of brighter, more assertive performances at No 15 – perhaps starting in the crunch derby against the Stormers at Newlands on Saturday? – for Steyn to become a serious challenger to the what-you-see-is-what-you-get credentials of Kirchner.
Players invited to the first Springbok training camp of 2013:
Forwards: Tendai Mtawarira, Jannie du Plessis, Frans Malherbe, Coenie Oosthuizen, Pat Cilliers, Adriaan Strauss, Bismarck du Plessis, Chiliboy Ralepelle, Eben Etzebeth, Flip van der Merwe, Juandré Kruger, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Franco van der Merwe, Siya Kolisi, Marcell Coetzee, Willem Alberts, Arno Botha, Duane Vermeulen, Pierre Spies, Ryan Kankowski.
Backs: Jano Vermaak, Francois Hougaard, Pat Lambie, Morné Steyn, Elton Jantjies, Jean de Villiers, Frans Steyn, Juan de Jongh, Jan Serfontein, Robert Ebersohn, Bryan Habana, Lwazi Mvovo, Raymond Rhule, JP Pietersen, Bjorn Basson, Zane Kirchner.
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