Steyn unlucky to miss out again

The decision to call up Jan Serfontein rather than Frans Steyn as a replacement for Jean de Villiers is a debatable one, writes CRAIG LEWIS.

De Villiers has had his fair share of doubters both before the World Cup and during the start of the tournament, but his absence will be keenly felt over the weeks to come.

His leadership, experience, communication skills and ability to slot in at outside centre made him an invaluable asset to the Boks. Those factors were the reasons I maintained that rugby reasons still outweighed any sentimental ones for his selection.

While his presence will be missed, the Boks need to somehow channel the emotion of his departure into a positive energy that will see the team ‘playing for Jean’ during the rest of the tournament.

However, I do feel that Steyn would have been closer to fitting the mould of a like-for-like replacement.

Lest we forget, it was Steyn who replaced De Villiers as the starting inside centre when the latter was injured at the 2007 tournament, with the baby-faced back becoming the youngest ever player to win a World Cup.

It was also Steyn’s outstanding long-range penalty in the final that played no small part in enabling the Boks to calmly close out that title decider against England.

Although Steyn has spent an extended period in the international wilderness, having last played for the Boks against the World XV in June 2014, he is a vastly experienced and versatile player.

The 28-year-old was involved in the Boks’ planning this year, and Meyer admitted it was one of the toughest conversations he’d ever had as Bok coach when telling Steyn that he hadn’t made the final World Cup squad.

Yet Meyer also explained at the time that Steyn understood the reasoning and had provided heartfelt assurances that should his services ever be required at the World Cup, he’d be there in a flash.

Unless something has changed in the interim, it’s surprising that Steyn was not the man Meyer turned to after the De Villiers setback.

The decision is likely to have been made at least partly based on the fact Serfontein has had recent Test experience at outside centre, having started eight matches there last year.

However, Serfontein’s best position is still at inside centre, while even in a couple of recent Currie Cup games, he has had to make do with a spot on the bench.

A classy and talented player Serfontein may be, but the Boks are going to be incredibly green in the midfield. Damian de Allende is 23, Jesse Kriel 21 and Serfontein 22. Between them, they have just 35 Tests caps in total.

It is, of course, extremely unfortunate that Steyn suffered an injury during the latter stages of Super Rugby, and has headed back to Japan, but his experience would have still somewhat softened the blow of De Villiers’s departure.

His physicality, big boot and ability to slot long-distance shots at goal would have also been a handy little boost to the Boks.

Ultimately, though, the reality has quickly set in that there is no simple solution when it comes to finding a replacement for De Villiers, which is yet another testament to a player who so many were quick to write off.

Photo: Chris Ricco/BackpagePix

Post by

Craig Lewis