A fit Frans Steyn – despite another public declaration that he does not expect to ever play for the Springboks again – will go to the World Cup later this year, writes MARK KEOHANE in Business Day.
Steyn is a World Cup winner, having been influential as a 20 year old in South Africa’s 2007 success.
Steyn is a Tri-Nations winner, again having contributed massively to the Springboks’ win against the All Blacks in Hamilton in 2009.
Steyn is also one of the highest-paid rugby players in the world. He played for Racing Métro for four years and now is based in Japan on a deal that allows him to play Vodacom Super Rugby for the Sharks.
The Japanese deal does not make provision for his international release for the Rugby Championship but all players the world over are released to play in the World Cup.
Steyn, through his media interviews, could be preparing for the worst but if Bok coach Heyneke Meyer is true to his stated view that he wants the best South African players wearing the Bok jersey at the World Cup, then Steyn, if not injured, will be among those challenged to win back the World Cup.
Steyn is only 27 years old. He can play flyhalf, inside centre, outside centre and fullback. His is among the longest line kicking games and he's an effective goal-kicker. Those are qualities few coaches in world rugby can find in one individual.
Steyn, a 19-year-old darling of Springbok rugby in 2006 when he played wing on debut and scored a fantastic individual try, isn’t the poster boy anymore.
The ignorant among South Africa’s support base still think any player who maximizes his income worth through a club contract in France, England or Japan, is showing a lack of loyalty to the Springboks.
It is ridiculous and so out of sync with the demands of professional sport. South Africa’s domestic competitions cannot compete with the overseas contract offers and the majority of South Africans based overseas have always made themselves available for Bok selection.
Meyer has consistently selected 10 overseas-based Boks in his respective squads of 30. Steyn, up until a year ago, was among those offshore players until he walked out of the Boks because of a financial dispute with the South African Rugby Union.
Steyn’s stance won him few friends on social media. The Neville Noboddies of South Africa’s rugby social media mob have declared war on the man who has played so many memorable Tests for South Africa.
The abuse always gets personal and always gets nasty. The tone is disgusting and says more about the makeup of those who call themselves Bok loyalists but take such joy in their insult of one of the game’s finest players.
Steyn doesn’t need the abuse and he certainly doesn’t need to prove to anyone in South Africa that he's good enough to be a Springbok or to play in the World Cup. He was one of South Africa’s best at the 2007 World Cup and he was among the best performing Springboks in the 2011 World Cup before injury ended his tournament.
Ironically, many of those who lamented his premature end to the tournament in 2011, were the very same vicious voices who declared the player a pariah and not deserving of a World Cup place.
Steyn’s dispute with Saru should never have played out the way it did. The national organisation’s leadership, regardless of its like or dislike for the personality of the player, should have dealt with an asset with greater care, consideration and integrity.
Many of the world’s best sports people have an ego the equal of their talent. These talents and egos require management and not alienation.
Steyn, as a player, could retire now and be considered one of the best to have played the professional game. His international statistics, his many big performances for South Africa and a World Cup winner's medal support his claim to one of the most successful Springbok professional international careers.
But why allow the poison to fester because the young boy from Bloem hasn’t remained the inoffensive conservative kid who felt uncomfortable voicing an opinion in the media, let alone telling his employers he wouldn’t tolerate what he felt was a lie?
Steyn is not bigger than the game and he has not become a self-serving egotist who thinks he is bigger than the game.
He wants to play for the Springboks. He wants to play until he is 32, which would mean he could play in another two World Cups.
Meyer was in France and England this past week meeting with every potential World Cup player. He knows the value of the offshore players because when none were eligible to play Wales, the South African-based Boks lost in Cardiff.
Meyer wants the best South Africans in his squad of 30. Steyn is among those best South Africans and getting him to England would be a victory.
The Springbok squad will be stronger with Steyn and those who believe the Boks don’t need a player of his quality don’t have a clue about rugby.
Photo: Steve Haag/Gallo Images