Steyn – the good, the bad, the un­tapped

CityPress - - Sport - Simnikiwe Xabanisa sports@city­press.co.za Fol­low me on Twit­ter @Simx­a­ban­isa

Not long af­ter Frans Steyn broke into in­ter­na­tional rugby as a 19-year-old in 2006, Thomas Cas­taignède – the gifted for­mer French util­ity back – was moved to write “the rugby gods must have been over­look­ing his cot when he was born”.

At the time, the Spring­bok util­ity back was a man-child at 1.91m and 101kg, and most peo­ple who knew their rugby thought he was able to cover all the back­line po­si­tions ex­cept scrum half.

Eleven years later, Steyn is still the youngest player to win a World Cup – at 20 years and 159 days old – the youngest to be capped 50 times by the Spring­boks (at 25) and, af­ter stints in France and Ja­pan, has prob­a­bly put enough money un­der the mat­tress to be set for life.

Yet there’s lin­ger­ing doubt about whether he has ful­filled the play­ing po­ten­tial that had Cas­taignède reach­ing for his most vivid prose to de­scribe what he meant for world rugby.

Go­ing into yes­ter­day’s first test against France, Steyn – now 30 – was sit­ting on 53 caps, hav­ing last played for South Africa in 2014. Fifty test caps is 50 test caps, but that num­ber puts him in the same bracket as Pat Lam­bie (56), who, for all his luck­less­ness, is no Frans Steyn.

This is why Steyn, through his tri­als and tribu­la­tions, has come to rep­re­sent ev­ery­thing right and wrong about our rugby. The pre­vail­ing nar­ra­tive of our rugby is that the tal­ent is there, but too of­ten we fail by not de­vel­op­ing it to reach its full po­ten­tial, or by al­low­ing it to fall through the cracks.

From the very be­gin­ning, Steyn was mis­di­ag­nosed as a fly half at the time he had nei­ther the un­der­stand­ing of time and space nor the in­cli­na­tion to put play­ers out­side him away. The rea­son for that call was that he was a strap­ping lad at Grey Col­lege who was used to run­ning through teams on his own and he had a how­itzer boot.

That he was on the bench against the French as backup for fly half, when the in­ter­ven­ing years have proved him to be an in­side cen­tre who mostly takes it up or a full­back who kicks it a mile, shows that we don’t mind mak­ing the same mis­take over and over again.

Granted, with Lam­bie and Han­drè Pol­lard out of sorts, the fly half sit­u­a­tion is a bit ropey for the Boks, but too many peo­ple still think of Steyn as a stand­off.

Look­ing at his de­vel­op­ment, it’s safe to say Steyn never kicked on from the 2007 Rugby World Cup fi­nal, de­spite be­ing an au­to­matic se­lec­tion for pretty much ev­ery team he has played for since.

In a way, he re­minds one of an un­de­vel­oped Ma’a Nonu. Where the for­mer All Black ini­tially re­lied heav­ily on his Maori side­step but went on to learn how to kick and pass, Steyn didn’t re­ally add soft touches like pass­ing and of­fload­ing to his hard-run­ning rou­tine, and his two party tricks of drop-kick­ing and place-kick­ing from the park­ing lot.

Through­out his ca­reer, one has never got the im­pres­sion Steyn has har­nessed his con­sid­er­able gifts to con­sis­tently de­liver. In­stead, he has been about spo­radic flashes of ge­nius like place-kick­ing from 60m or the odd sub­lime pass, and a lack of in­sis­tent coach­ing is to blame for that.

In leav­ing for Rac­ing Metro at 22, Steyn in­di­rectly be­gan the new trend of play­ers leav­ing the coun­try be­fore even play­ing for the Boks.

And by quit­ting the Boks in a huff in 2014, he has also un­wit­tingly in­tro­duced the cul­ture of en­ti­tle­ment that has seen the likes of Faf de Klerk sign the first avail­able Euro­pean con­tract the mo­ment he looked like he wasn’t part of Al­lis­ter Coet­zee’s plans.

The fact that Steyn left be­cause of bro­ken prom­ises by SA Rugby for the kind of pref­er­en­tial deal they should not have agreed to is valid enough and re­flects poorly on the gov­ern­ing body. But what re­mains is that de­cent rugby play­ers in South Africa are bet­ter com­pen­sated than the vast ma­jor­ity of peo­ple in this coun­try.

Just in case this sounds like an at­tack on Steyn, it isn’t. It is, how­ever, us­ing one player as an ex­am­ple of how hap­haz­ardly we man­age tal­ent in South Africa and still ex­pect con­sis­tent re­sults.

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