Frans Steyn’s commitment to the Cheetahs bodes well for the Springboks ahead of their next big assignment against the British & Irish Lions.
These are troubled times, and South African rugby has been crying out for a good news story. Earlier this week, the Cheetahs confirmed that Frans Steyn has signed with the franchise for two seasons.
The Cheetahs will certainly benefit from the presence of another World Cup winner in their ranks. Scrumhalf Ruan Pienaar has added value since returning to the Free State in 2019. Steyn should play a similar role in the coming years.
Steyn has come full circle. The prodigal son began his rugby journey with Grey College and Free State before heading to the Sharks in 2006. It’s fitting that he should finish his career in Bloemfontein.
That said, the move could prove a springboard to greater things. Steyn has won everything there is to win with the Boks at Test level – including two World Cups 12 years apart. There may be an opportunity to claim a second series win against the Lions next year, having starred for the Boks in the 2-1 triumph back in 2009.
Steyn started at flyhalf, centre and wing in the early days of his Test career. In 2009, however, he was deployed primarily as a fullback as the Boks looked to harness the impact of his siege-gun boot.
By then, Steyn was recognised by coaches around the world as a game changer. The Lions famously tailored their approach in an attempt to nullify Steyn’s line-kicking game. Ultimately, Steyn and the likes of Fourie du Preez managed to boot the Boks into strong field positions.
Will Steyn play a different role in 2021, some 12 years after featuring against the 2009 Lions? One cannot see him starting at fullback, but his versatility and game-winning ability will certainly add value in a match-day squad.
While a few eyebrows were raised when Rassie Erasmus brought Steyn out of the international wilderness last year, the veteran showed his desire to contribute during the Rugby Championship. The Boks gathered momentum over the course of the World Cup tournament in Japan, with Erasmus favouring a six-two split on the bench. The South Africans would not have been able to field so many forwards on the bench if Steyn wasn’t capable of covering flyhalf, centre, wing and fullback from the wood.
Will we see a repeat of those tactics in 2021? Perhaps. It wouldn’t surprise me to see one or two others groomed for that role to ensure that the squad has more bona fide utility options outside Steyn. Damian Willemse has played flyhalf and fullback for the Boks, and centre for his franchise.
Beast Mtawarira, Francois Louw and Schalk Brits retired after the 2019 World Cup. Other stalwarts like Duane Vermeulen have confirmed that they will push on to the Lions series. The latest news about Steyn suggests the Boks will have access to another vastly experienced player.
Overall, 30 of the 33 Boks that featured in the successful World Cup campaign will be available – fitness and form permitting – for a massively important series that is staged once every 12 years. There’s clearly an opportunity for the Boks to build on what they achieved in 2019.
It’s encouraging to note that the vast majority of those players will be in the prime of their careers in 2021. A large portion of the group will be 30 or younger when the 2023 World Cup rolls round.
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