Frans Steyn is being true to himself by opting to rest his knees in June, writes MARK KEOHANE.
Give Frans Steyn a break. He’s a great rugby player who will still make a difference if selected for next year’s World Cup in England.
Steyn has been outstanding for the Sharks this season. He has played out of position – at flyhalf – and been inspirational in the Sharks’ table-topping season.
He has played every minute of the Sharks season. But his knees take strain – as they were always going to given his natural physical size.
Steyn, when he made his Test debut against Ireland on the wing, was a big boy. He was always going to grow into a bigger man.
The rugby public needs to cut him some slack. He doesn’t lack inspiration, motivation or desire to play for South Africa. He also doesn’t lack common sense when it comes to his career.
Steyn’s frame needs to last if he is to last as a professional rugby player; if not necessarily as an international rugby player.
I asked Sharks director of rugby Jake White about Steyn's situation and asked if this was the end of Steyn as a Springbok. White’s response: ‘I hope not … he’s tired Mark … he needs to be managed.’
White was the coach who picked Steyn to be a Springbok. He was the coach of the 2007 World Cup Boks who beat England in the final. Steyn played in the final and was one of the imposing figures. He was just 20 years old.
Steyn is not picking and choosing his matches. He is not asking to be treated as a special case. He is being true to himself, his health and his potential longevity in the game.
White manages the workload with Steyn, very much like he did with several Springboks during his time.
When White lured Os du Randt out of retirement in 2004 he made it clear to the player that he would be mindful of the strains on Os’s knees. The player, coach and conditioning coach worked a system in which all that mattered was Du Randt being in a position to give maximum on Test match day. The plan proved fruitful and Du Randt was always a factor and also an inspiration to the younger players.
Steyn is that type of player and we must stop thinking of him as a 19-year-old who is seen to be acting like a prima donna. He is everything but.
He is a veteran rugby player (in minutes played) and his body has taken some serious tap.
He needs to be managed in terms of his conditioning during the week, and White has been prepared to manage him in a certain way to get value on match day.
‘I recognise what I have in Frans as a player and I also recognise there has to be give and take with him if I am going to get the best out of him. It would serve no purpose to flog him in the week to make a point. He gets managed to make the best contribution. And he has done this,’ White told me. ‘He doesn’t get preferential treatment. He gets the treatment I feel [as coach] means he can make a telling difference on match day.’
Steyn has withdrawn from the Springboks' June Tests for personal reasons and he was never going to be available for the Rugby Championship after signing a deal to play Japanese club rugby.
Steyn irks many South Africans in the way Sonny Bill Williams does Kiwis. The belief is the player thinks he is above the game and picks and chooses when he plays for his country.
The immediate public reaction is to tell the player to get lost and to focus on the next on the cab rank.
Those coaches, like White, Meyer, Dave Rennie and Steve Hansen are closer to the action and they know the motivation in the player and also the value of the player.
Rennie and Hansen knew they were going to get Williams back for the 2015 season. Hansen said he would be a fool to turn his back on a talent like Williams. Ditto Steyn, who if fit adds value to any Springbok squad.
Steyn will rest his tired knees this month and hopefully have enough in them to win Super Rugby’s title with the Sharks. And, with a bit of good fortune, he will be in England to help the Boks win the 2015 World Cup.
Don’t dismiss him. Don’t write him off. Don’t be angry with him and don’t question his desire for the Bok jersey. Accept his situation and hope it allows for another World Cup campaign.
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