Frans Steyn’s value to the Cheetahs will only be heightened following the unfortunate injury to captain Ruan Pienaar, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
In a South African sports society where everyone loves the story of the underdog, the Cheetahs have often been viewed as a team held in fond regard for this very reason.
As a side that has always played an attractive brand of rugby, the Cheetahs feed off a fighting spirit inherent to a franchise that’s often under-resourced and quite often left to fend for itself.
That is something that has been sharply brought into focus once again with the decision to exclude the Cheetahs from the PRO14, leaving them in limbo just as a undeniably competitive squad had been assembled for the new-look domestic season.
The Cheetahs have said they have nothing to prove to SA Rugby, but in starting Super Rugby Unlocked with an emphatic win over the Pumas and a gutsy victory over the Vodacom Bulls, you can’t help but feel a statement is being made this season.
Unfortunately, the first real blip on the radar occurred in the first half of this past weekend’s clash with the Bulls when Pienaar was cleared out awkwardly at a ruck, and ruptured his MCL.
It’s hoped that Pienaar will be able to return to action before the end of the year, but he won’t feature again in the first round of the local competition, with the Cheetahs robbed of both their leader and backline general.
With so much experience on his side, the 36-year-old has a presence about him, and the manner in which he was conducting play with such authority was undoubtedly a major plus factor for a new-look Cheetahs side.
As it is, the impressive Jasper Wiese, lock Walt Steenkamp and midfielder Benhard Janse van Rensburg will all be heading into their final games for the Cheetahs this weekend before taking up contractual commitments elsewhere.
Wiese has signed for the Leicester Tigers, Steenkamp is due to join the Bulls from November, while Janse van Rensburg is heading to Japan.
The Cheetahs are no strangers to challenging times, but these latest personnel changes will surely make coach Hawies Fourie exceedingly grateful to have a two-time World Cup winner in his squad.
Back in Bloemfontein, Steyn is looking fit and in form, while his influence as a powerful ball-carrier and with his long-range kicking game has been abundantly apparent.
The 33-year-old clearly still has plenty of rugby left in him, but it’s his ability to provide the Cheetahs with direction and also fulfil a calming leadership role that will be of critical importance in the absence of Pienaar.
Playing with purpose – and undoubtedly treasuring every contribution on and off the field at this stage of his career – there should be no underestimating the value of the versatile veteran.