Damian De Allende wears the crown worldwide at inside centre, but there has been seemingly little investment in a back up plan for the Springboks should De Allende go down. Perhaps this is because Frans Steyn, at the Cheetahs, continues to bulldoze opposition backlines and bang long range kicks, writes Oliver Keohane.
A particularly powerful display from Frans Steyn in the Cheetahs’ 24-17 win over Western Province in the Currie Cup saw him hitting hard lines and running over both backs and forwards for the entire evening. Receiving the ball straight from Ruan Pienaar or off a pop from 10, every time Steyn got the ball you were sure to see one or two Province players bouncing off him while a few other wrestled his huge frame to the ground.
It was interesting to watch such an aggressive and purposeful performance for the Cheetahs’ in a Wednesday evening Currie Cup game from a man who has won everything there is to win for the Springboks including two World Cups, from 19 years old. What was more interesting was affirmation from Steyn himself of the impression one got, as a spectator, of his attitude.
“I still get angry on the field. The day that I am no longer angry and accept mediocrity, average, that is the day I will stop. At the moment I still get angry and want to compete. People still make me angry on the field. I am still okay.
I am enjoying my rugby at present. I am enjoying it here in the Free State. My children are here in the school (Bloemfontein). My wife is happy and there are some nice people at the Cheetahs.”
If it was not evident enough from his consistency for the Cheetahs, who sit top of the Currie Cup table, that Frans Steyn is happy, hungry for rugby, and still has something to give South African rugby , his remarks say it all.
Remember, before writing off the idea of his selection before the June internationals even come around, that it was Frans Steyn who came off the bench to completely turn the game around in the Springboks win against the All Blacks last year, and later that year it was Frans Steyn who saved the day against Wales, in Cardiff. Bear in mind that both times this was from fullback, a position much less suited to his current physical capabilities than inside centre.
So, while he is still happy to give of his rugby genius to the Springbok team, there is no reason to stop picking Francois Steyn.
Damian Willemse is finally being given an extended run at inside centre for the Stormers, which is where I believe his game is best suited to being played, and this only bodes well for the Springboks. Andre Esterhuizen has been superb for the Harlequins and equally Rohan Janse Van Rensburg for Sale Sharks.
But it is no debate for me about who I would want coming on against the All Blacks or England should Damian De Allende go down with an injury, and it is still Frans Steyn every day of the week.
He commands such a physical presence, his kicking game has thrived with the new 22m rule, and he still retains the ability to knock over log range penalties and conversions.
Jan Serfontein for the last six years has been been magnificent for Montpellier, but for some reason it seems he is not in any of Rassie or Jacque’s plans. In terms of a like-for-like, Serfontein offers a very similar skillset to De Allende and can play at inside and outside centre. It is well documented that where the Bok coaching leadership believes Serfontein is lacking is in the physicality associated with De Allende.
Others would disagree, especially his coaches at Montpellier. Serfontein is still only 28 years old, and the seeming unwillingness to involve him in some capacity in the international set up has been one of the only baffling and disappointing selection decisions (for me) during Rassie and Jacque’s tenure.
Lukhanyo Am can, of course play 12, having started his career on the inside, but he is also the Springboks best 13 and arguably the best outside centre in the world at the moment, so if the Boks are able to keep him there, they should.
And no inside centre opinion would be complete without the mention of Springbok and Harlequins No 12 Andre Esterhuizen, who has shown consistently good form up north.
There needs to come a time when there is an investment into a number 12 who can play back up to Damian De Allende without any cause for concern. My feeling is that Damian Willemse can come through and offer that eventually, and that if Jan Serfontein was picked he would slot in with equanimity for the next few years.
But neither of those are options at the moment, and Frans Steyn is still around, he’s still happy, but by his own admission, he’s still angry. That makes for the perfect combination for any team with him in the starting lineup or on the bench, and the Springboks would be silly to not capitalise on that in his last year or two of rugby.