Rugby Championship

Boks: Frans cutting it fine, but...

2015-08-04 11:59
Frans Steyn (Gallo Images)

Cape Town - His more immediate return to the Springbok fold has been put on indefinite, unfortunate hold due to a family bereavement... but Frans Steyn must still have a fighting chance of being on the plane to the World Cup.

READ: Steyn released from Bok squad after brother's death

It will be as many as three years, come September, since he last wore a Bok Test jersey in Dunedin, and it appears as though the controversial star had been earmarked for a possible poignant return (after a chest injury) in the Buenos Aires clash against Argentina on Saturday week. 

But the death of his brother earlier this week has complicated matters on that front. Bok team manager Ian Schwartz said with fitting diplomacy and sympathy after his release from the camp: “We will not take any decisions on his immediate involvement with the squad... his personal situation is now the most important.”

It certainly appears to keep a door open for his presence at RWC 2015.

Steyn has the known class and experience to muscle his way back into the Springbok starting mix as well, but at the very least he could be an extremely attractive, multi-use substitute at the World Cup.

The single-minded Sharks and Toshiba Brave Lupus star is a high-maintenance sort of character in many ways, given his various, much-publicised scraps with officialdom and some disciplinary flashpoints, so it is easy to understand why some people believe South Africa should have “moved on” from him.

It was also only a few short months ago, after all, that he was saying himself that he believed his 53-cap Bok career was probably over.

Yet at 28 - he seems to have been around forever, given his extraordinarily young start in Test rugby, aged 19 - he at a phase in his life most rugby players would consider to be their professional peaks.

The fairly startling U-turn on his availability for RWC 2015 is nevertheless a development that will also be warmly received in many circles - Bok coach Heyneke Meyer was hardly slow to reintroduce him to his broad lead-up squad.

Steyn is and always has been an enigma, capable of really forceful, dominating showings from wherever he is stationed on the field in a green and gold jersey, while also experiencing matches where he seems to forget the team script and hampers rather than enhances things with selfish or eccentric option-taking and clumsy moments.

But he has a “presence”, nevertheless, and not just for the rather obvious, robust physical reasons – he certainly keeps opponents guessing.

One really strong justification for Meyer probably wishing to have him on the plane to England is his ongoing, rare versatility: Steyn arguably outdoes all other current Boks on that front.

For example, while it is doubtful whether the Steyn of 2015, heavier and almost certainly slower off the mark than he was as a Bok teenager, will grace either wing position again - he’s not the worst battering ram on a heavy pitch in an emergency, is he? - it was actually in a No 11 jersey that he made his Test debut against Ireland back in 2006.

In what might make a dastardly quiz question, his ally on the right wing that day was Jaco Pretorius, the Bulls utility back also making a maiden appearance, albeit the first of two fleeting caps in his case.

But it also part of a gentle reminder that Big Frans has since graced every backline berth for his country except scrumhalf.

He has not actually started a Test at No 14, but did replace Ashwin Willemse there once against Australia at Newlands, and has begun games in all of the Nos 10, 12, 13 and 15 jerseys.

For my money, that makes him a really enviable sort of character to have among your reserves on match-day, if not running out amongst the first XV.

There is also a fairly well-stocked lobby suggesting that if the Boks want a fullback with an imposing sort of build and height - as opposed to the likes of Willie le Roux, Pat Lambie and Jesse Kriel - Steyn is a highly proven RWC option there, especially if any key matches are played in particularly grim UK conditions.

Wherever deployed, the player also offers that booming boot: potentially influential not only in terms of field gain out of hand, but because Steyn still offers off the tee probably as long a range as any place-kicker in world rugby on a day when he is striking it well.

The latter is no small consideration if the Boks are trying to nail down a close, ding-dong knockout fixture and a penalty opportunity suddenly presents itself late on from 55 metres or more.

Steyn is also among the now-thinning band of Bok players with useful prior memories (2007) of winning a World Cup in northern climes.

Like it or not Frans Steyn, if deemed properly fit, is a good bet to make a 31-strong Bok RWC squad, even if hopes of a glimpse at his current value ahead of it may now have been dashed.

I’d be happy enough with that development, even given my suspicion that his best days have already occurred in rugby.

The pros for a recall, for the first time since 2012, do outweigh the cons...

Here is the breakdown of Steyn’s 53-match Test career by position:

Centre: 27 caps (7 sub)

Fullback: 18 caps (4 sub)

Flyhalf: 5 caps (4 sub)

Wing: 3 caps (2 sub)

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing


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