Can the real Steyn please stand up?

The Sharks need Frans Steyn to be the match-winner he should be against the Crusaders on Saturday, writes RYAN VREDE.

In rugby, the team's success always hinges mostly on the efficiency and cohesiveness of the collective. But tight matches, like the one in Christchurch is expected to be, are often shaped by inspired contributions by one of the elite players involved. In a South African context, Fourie du Preez's performance in the 2009 Super 14 final is one such example, as is Victor Matfield's standout showing in the 2010 final against the Stormers. The Sharks need Frans Steyn to deliver something of equal calibre.

Steyn emerged in 2006 and immediately announced himself as a rare talent. I recall watching him decimate Western Province in torrential rain at Kings Park that year. He played with no discernable fear of failure and as if the sun was beating down on the stadium. Later that year he made the transition to Test rugby and never looked like an impostor, despite being just 19 years old and in his first full season as a professional.

In 2007 he won the Springboks a Test at Newlands against Australia with two impossibly brilliant drop goals, then made a significant contribution to the Springboks winning the World Cup in France. 

At that point most with a trained eye predicted he would become one of the greats the game has seen. Instead he has given us only glimpses of his immense talent, never releasing it with the consistency that marked the greats' rise. His development slowed during his stint with Racing Métro in Paris. His return to South Africa revealed a player of still appreciable potency but one that leaves you with the sense of an unfulfilled talent. 

I wrote prior to the start of the Super Rugby campaign that Jake White would be the catalyst for Steyn's evolution and there have certainly been signs to support that assertion. White knows how to manage Steyn, who has a reputation for being temperamental, single-minded and stubborn, in order to extract the very best out of him.

Now there needs to be a notable return on White's and, indeed, the Sharks' investment. To say Steyn has betrayed his talent would be inaccurate, but he certainly hasn't influenced Super Rugby matches of Saturday's ilk in the manner a player of his ability and experience should.

He has an opportunity to correct this, beginning against the Crusaders on Saturday. The odds are stacked against him and his team, but the world's best players, and he is among them, are stimulated by and rise to such challenges. Sonny Bill Williams' performance against the Stormers in the semi-final at Newlands in 2011 is a recent example of this. The Crusaders had made a 12,000km round trip in a fortnight before taking the field. The Stormers were the tournament's form team and enjoyed the support of a packed house. Williams seemed unaffected by these things and delivered one of the great Super Rugby performances. 

Steyn, when his mental and technical attributes align, is as influential a player, albeit that their talent has different observable expressions. The Sharks desperately need that player to show up in Christchurch.

Photo: Barry Aldworth/BackpagePix

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