Loftus legend Morne Steyn is targeting a memorable swansong with the Vodacom Bulls, writes BRENDAN NEL in SA Rugby Magazine.
It wasn’t surprising that a decade ago, when the Bulls were in their prime, the Loftus Versfeld DJ decided that after every kick he would belt out the chorus to Tina Turner’s smash hit ‘Simply the Best’.
It was never revealed if the Bulls paid royalties for every airing of the song, but if they did they would have been quite a bit poorer for the choice, especially as it attached itself to the kicking exploits of Morne Steyn.
Steyn’s return to Loftus has been celebrated with a tinge of nostalgia. The architect of so many wins and the holder of so many records in South Africa, his homecoming seems to have the right feel about it.
And make no mistake, Steyn hasn’t returned to earn a bit of money for his pension. He is here to play.
Steyn may be in the twilight of his career, but the glimpses of form he showed in his first few outings in Pretoria have not let him down. And while he may only be on the field for a season, perhaps two, the Bulls are looking to get the most out of him.
There were several reasons for his return – one being the French Jiff system that forces clubs to play more French-eligible players every year to try to reduce the influx of foreign players in the country. But more than that, Steyn was looking to the future, to a time when his career had heard the final whistle.
His contract with the Bulls is for three years – or ‘two plus one’, as he puts it. Two years on the field and an extra one as a kicking coach to continue transferring his knowledge and skills to the other flyhalves at the Bulls.
The move back to South Africa happened very quickly, but it was a chance he and his wife, Christelle, grabbed with both hands.
‘I thought I’d finish up in Paris, but because of the Jiff system, Stade Francais offered me a contract only until the end of November and I wanted to play an extra year or two. It would have been difficult to move in France and take my kids out of school,’ he said.
‘I would have come back to South Africa at some stage in any case and my agent approached the Bulls. Within half an hour they phoned back – and coach Pote Human phoned me to find out if it was true. My wife was very happy because we could go “home” and our kids could go to Afrikaans schools. Everything fell into place very quickly.’
Steyn left South Africa at a time when, despite his exceptional playing statistics, there were those who felt he should no longer be the Bok flyhalf. His style of play may not have suited everyone, but ask any coach and they will say it straight: Steyn is a banker.
A solid player who hardly ever lets you down.
On returning, Steyn had 95 caps for the Blue Bulls, 124 Vodacom Super Rugby caps for the Bulls and played 109 times for Stade Francais. Add 66 Springbok caps to that and it is obvious how much experience he has and how valuable it is for the Bulls.
Plus there are the records that have him as one of the most prodigious scorers on a rugby field. And now, a bit older and a lot wiser, Steyn knows what he can do and that he won’t please everyone all of the time.
‘You’re always going to have half the people who want you to play and half who don’t want you in the team at all. But it is important who I listen to and what I allow to affect me. I know that and handle it well,’ he says.
‘I’m back at the Bulls to enjoy my last two years and to close it off on my terms. The ending of my career has turned out like I want it to. If I’d had the chance to stay at the Bulls in 2013, I never would have left. I would have played all my rugby for one team. So to be back here is precisely what I want for the end of my career.’
Steyn says he enjoyed his time in France, but underlined the fact that Pretoria is where his heart lies.
‘We enjoyed our time in France. We had a lot of time together as a family, especially as there wasn’t much to do other than train and go home to the family. There aren’t golf days around there that take up your days off. My wife even warned me not to get involved in the golf days in Pretoria again,’ he laughs.
‘The culture was something special, and unique. To have different cultures from across the world and put them into one team isn’t easy. One of the toughest things was the language. Understanding French makes a massive difference in day-to-day living, like taking your kids to the doctor and you can’t understand what they are saying. It was tougher on my wife, especially as she had to adapt outside the rugby circles. But for the most part we loved our time there.’
Steyn knows his role as a mentor is primary, but he isn’t the type to sit back and not compete.
‘You don’t come to a team to sit on the bench. Saying that, Manie Libbok is an exciting player and has done well for the team. It is always nice to have guys who keep you on your toes so you don’t get into a comfort zone. I hope to make a difference and make that No 10 jersey my own,’ he says.
‘Manie has done exceptionally well. I want to help where I can and mentor the younger players. I’m almost as old as the coaches, but I will definitely help wherever I can. I don’t expect to play all the games and I know what my role is. Part of it is to help develop a guy like Manie and to support him.’
But once Steyn gets back on to the field where he once slotted a 50m penalty to win the series against the British & Irish Lions, something will take over. Older, wiser and much more determined in what he wants, he will bring a calmness to the backline and usher in a lot of tactical nuance.
Steyn knows how to dictate a game and he knows success. Returning home after such a long time away will have its challenges, but if anyone can overcome them he can.
And Tina Turner can start belting out over the Loftus Versfeld speakers once again.
FOR THE RECORD
Morne Steyn is a record-breaker bar none and despite his age, still holds a number of records in South African and world rugby.
He is not only the fastest Springbok to 100 points, but also to 200, 300, 400, 500, 600 and 700 points. He holds the world record for the most points scored by a player who scored all his side’s points – against New Zealand in Durban in 2009, where he slotted eight penalties, scored a try and converted it.
In Super Rugby, Steyn’s stats are just as legendary, with the most drop goals in a season (12) and the most drop goals in a Super Rugby match (four against the Crusaders). He also kicked the most drop goals in Super Rugby history with 25.
His 1 467 points in Super Rugby are the most by a South African and he was the first South African player to pass 1 000 points in the competition. He holds the record for the most penalties in a Super Rugby season (51).
Steyn also holds the record for most consecutive successful kicks at goal in Test play since the stats were kept in the late 1980s. He has a streak of 41 successful consecutive attempts that ended on 6 November 2010 against Ireland. The previous record was 36, held by Scotland’s Chris Paterson.