Rugby Championship

Midfield: Rassie's only murky Bok area

2019-07-22 06:00
Frans Steyn
Frans Steyn (Gallo Images)

Cape Town - Frans Steyn seems a crucial step closer now to the possibility that he emulates record-holding Os du Randt later this year ... as a second Springbok to boast two World Cup-winning medals.

READ: Bok ratings: Give that No 9 ... a nine!

If the current Boks, amassing a tidy head of steam for RWC 2019 after Saturday’s handsome 35-17 downing of Australia in the Rugby Championship at Ellis Park, manage to lift the Webb Ellis Cup again and veteran utility back Steyn is part of the mix, he would join iconic prop Du Randt with that status.

Considering that the front-ranker earned his medals 12 years apart (1995 and 2007), French-based Steyn would also sport that precise feat, as he would be adding 2019 honours to his own 2007 laurel.

There are many bridges for the national team yet to cross - both as a collective force and as individuals - in pursuit of that tournament-winning objective, of course, but the 32-year-old’s eye-opening zest in almost half an hour off the bench at inside centre in Johannesburg at very least revealed that the sometimes lengthily-absent international is a serious contender to be on the plane to Japan later in the year.

For all his versatility, which makes him a sound fullback option too, Steyn suddenly, timeously hikes quite considerably the resources available to head coach Rassie Erasmus in the one area (arguably) where more questions than compelling answers continue to present themselves: the midfield.

While it seems that Damian de Allende and Lukhanyo Am, who were part of the earliest wave of Bok personnel flown over to New Zealand several days ago to begin preparations for this Saturday’s massive clash with the All Blacks in Wellington (09:35 SA time), are earmarked for Nos 12 and 13 respectively at the Cake Tin, Steyn’s vigour and appetite against the Wallabies draws him back much closer to the starting picture himself - something he has not done since as far back as 2012.

A place among the substitutes again appears the likeliest bet for the player if he cracks the match-day 23 against New Zealand, but that occurrence would also raise the stakes for Stormers stalwart De Allende, especially, to produce an assertive showing as the incumbent of the inside channel.

The 27-year-old occupied the berth in all four Bok end-of-year tour fixtures in 2018, and appears to remain the premier choice in Erasmus’s mind as things stand - explaining his early flight to NZ among a batch of “A-teamers” who missed the Wallaby tussle.

Buoyed by the dynamic overall display of the experiment-driven combo against Australia, South Africa look to be building healthy depth in virtually all departments; there will clearly be little luxury for “passengers” over the next few weeks of Test activity which will be hugely influential in narrowing down the World Cup squad.

But an exception, you could argue, is both centre berths, despite the good levels of experience caps-wise from the likes of De Allende and Jesse Kriel, in particular, but also the gradually mounting tallies of Sharks-based duo Am and Andre Esterhuizen.

No single player from that group can truly claim to have nailed down a Test midfield starting spot.

The trend continued in the Big Smoke on Saturday, where the Esterhuizen-Kriel alliance veered more toward the workmanlike than genuinely wowing, despite the more notable excellence in several Bok positions elsewhere.

Brawny unit Esterhuizen also did himself no favours by earning a yellow card for a reckless high tackle in the first half, a period in which the Boks leaked a try while their 14-man defence was overly stretched.

South Africa still look a bit short of “knife through butter” attacking oomph at centre, and De Allende and Am get their opportunity now - at least that is the selection expectation - to offer up doses of that missing quality against the world champions.

While Steyn is hardly the most subtle animal himself as a midfielder, his directness and physicality almost invariably sucks in defenders to create opportunities beyond him in the backline, so any outside centre in alliance with him has the potential to play off him productively - he is a decent creator, when not bashing it up himself, through his strong and long passing.

The Montpellier man lurking with renewed intent is excellent as a gee-up for the broad Bok midfield arsenal …

Bok squad for remainder of Rugby Championship:

Forwards (21): Schalk Brits (Bulls), Marcell Coetzee (Ulster, Ireland), Lood de Jager (Bulls), Thomas du Toit (Sharks), Pieter-Steph du Toit (Stormers), Rynhardt Elstadt (Toulouse, France), Eben Etzebeth (Stormers), Lizo Gqoboka (Bulls), Steven Kitshoff (Stormers), Vincent Koch (Saracens, England), Francois Louw (Bath, England), Frans Malherbe (Stormers), Malcolm Marx (Lions), Bongi Mbonambi (Stormers), Tendai Mtawarira (Sharks), Franco Mostert (Gloucester, England), Trevor Nyakane (Bulls), Marvin Orie (Lions), Kwagga Smith (Lions), RG Snyman (Bulls), Duane Vermeulen (Bulls)

Backs (15): Lukhanyo Am (Sharks), Damian de Allende (Stormers), Faf de Klerk (Sale Sharks, England), Andre Esterhuizen (Sharks), Warrick Gelant (Bulls), Elton Jantjies (Lions), Herschel Jantjies (Stormers), Cheslin Kolbe (Toulouse, France), Jesse Kriel (Bulls), Makazole Mapimpi (Sharks), Sbu Nkosi (Sharks), Willie le Roux (Toyota Verblitz, Japan), Handré Pollard (Bulls), Cobus Reinach (Northampton Saints, England), Frans Steyn (Montpellier, France)

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

 

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