Cape Town - September
2011 ... that is how long it has been since Frans Steyn last started at fullback
for the Springboks.
It was the
nail-biting RWC 2011 pool match (their opener) against Wales at Wellington, and
the hefty individual quickly proved his worth by crashing over in the corner,
despite the committed attempts of at least two defenders to thwart him, for a
basically “bullied” his way over the line like a muscle-laden, 112kg Fijian
The rest of
the game didn’t go especially swimmingly for the Boks, as they had to come from
behind pretty late to snatch the mildly fortuitous 17-16 outcome, courtesy of a
bust-in try beneath the posts from substitute wing Francois Hougaard.
Jean de Villiers - he of the appalling World Cup injury bogey, spanning several
tournaments - was ruled out with a rib injury for several games and Steyn’s
admirable versatility called on to plug the gap at inside centre.
earned a further 14 caps, either as a starter or substitute, in his sometimes
stormy onward international career since 2011, but strictly in a midfield
capacity - which is also where current head coach Rassie Erasmus only recently
reminded that he believes the player is best suited.
few quibbles on that score?
if the mastermind suddenly found mishap befalling his similarly experienced,
usual first choice at No 15, Willie le Roux, in the leadup to or within fast-looming
RWC 2019 itself, a certain amount of head-scratching would follow.
stand, main alternative options in the important berth would appear to be
specialist Warrick Gelant, the 24-year-old Bulls player who had a sprightly outing
against Australia in Johannesburg recently, or the in-form utility back-three
dynamo Cheslin Kolbe.
possibility, the Stormers’ twinkle-toed and also versatile Damian Willemse, is
in a race against time to be fit and match-sharp for RWC consideration in
Japan, while it seems Jesse Kriel (42 caps, though little to no Test activity
at No 15) has been pigeon-holed solely as an outside centre or sometimes wing
these days, after plenty of time in the last line of defence earlier in his first-class
with Gelant is that he remains a Test rookie, with six caps overall and only
two starts thus far in his favoured position.
Kolbe, he had a fabulous outing at right wing against the All Blacks in
Wellington very recently, so Erasmus may be reluctant to tamper with the status
quo there for the time being.
Kolbe and Le
Roux, of course, are vastly different players to Steyn in both playing style
and physique: both have an enormous edge in pace, trickery and elusiveness,
whereas the Montpellier star relies much more on his height, power and that
monster boot for his success in the last line of defence.
But if Le
Roux were suddenly laid low, Erasmus might yet be tempted to reconsider the
fullback claims of Steyn, primarily on the grounds of his almost equal levels
of international street wisdom: Le Roux boasts 54 Bok caps, and Steyn 58.
concerns may surround his speed both off the mark and in a more general context
these days, the 32-year-old has enormous, tackle-busting leg strength, is a
rock-like figure under a high ball and could also be a useful
horses-for-courses pick at No 15 in the event that South Africa find themselves
facing a likely wet-weather/heavy-pitch contest.
It is for
that reason, arguably, that the Boks could do worse than give Steyn either a
start - perhaps the less pressured, non-Rugby Championship home Test against
Argentina at Loftus a week after the Salta duel? - or some time off the bench
in that role, rather than inside centre, to see whether he still cuts it in the
berth at the highest level.
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