It is magnificent and so appropriate that Frans Steyn will start in the Springboks first test since the Rugby World Cup final. He has started only two of his last 14 test matches, and before those 14 he hadn’t played for the Springboks in five years. Steyn’s story is a sensational one, writes Oliver Keohane.
Also read: Springboks announce squad for Georgia
In 2012 Frans Steyn became the youngest Springbok to ever reach 50 tests caps, against Argentina and playing under (his then-third) Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer. Steyn was just 25 years old, but the milestone came as no shock since Steyn had debuted in 2006 against Ireland and went on to dominate at international level for the next six years.
What may come as a shock to some is that nearly ten years after becoming a half-centurion, Steyn has added only 17 caps to that tally. After a final test against New Zealand in 2012, Francois Steyn did not appear in Springbok green for the next five years, before Alistair Coetzee called him up for the 2017 incoming series against France, where he was to play a role off the bench. In 2019, that would be the role in which he would support the Springboks again, as they paved their way to World Cup glory. While everybody acknowledges the importance of Steyn within that World Cup winning squad, he was given a starting opportunity only against Namibia and Canada, in the group stages.
Steyn, who at 19 years old debuted for the Springboks on the wing, will run out at 34 years old as the starting inside centre in South Africa’s first warmup test against Georgia. In 67 Test caps over those 15 years Steyn has started – and succeeded – at flyhalf, centre, wing and fullback for the Springboks. He is possibly the greatest all round rugby player South Africa has ever produced. He’s played under every Springbok coach (five) since his debut, and had injury, dispute and domestic duty not curtailed his international career, he may have held 150 test caps to his name. He’s played in three World Cups but perhaps he could have recorded four.
All the ‘ifs’ and ‘coulds’ are quite irrelevant though.
What’s important is what we we have in front of us: a player who has achieved everything internationally and gone full circle, from the farm to France and back to Bloem, to serve South African rugby for a final time in the Springboks most important year outside of the Rugby World Cup; the British and Irish Lions series. Whether from a starting position or coming off the bench, Steyn will make history again as the first Springbok (along with Morne Steyn) to play the British & Irish Lions twice in his career.
But forget everything beyond Friday, because it is a phenomenal feat for Steyn to be starting for the Springboks again. Inside centre is the position best suited to his abilities at this stage in his career, and with Handre Pollard at flyhalf, the pair make a mean duo. Both are over six foot, Pollard weighs 96 kilograms and Steyn 110. Both have some of the best handling in world rugby and both of them can also kick. To stay Frans Steyn can kick may be a slight understatement, but the sentiment remains the same: there is not much lacking in that 10-12 axis.
In 2007, as a seven year-old boy, I watched a 20 year-old Francois Steyn fill the boots of Jean De Villers to guide the Springboks to the peak of world rugby. 14 years later I get to watch him start for the Springboks again in that very same position, after once thinking he may never play beyond his 50 caps. How special is that.
Steyn’s phenomenal RWC stats:
He has won two Rugby World Cups (2007 and 2019)
He has played in three Rugby World Cups (2007, 2011 and 2019)
He has played 17 Rugby World Cup matches, scoring 43 points
Five of his 11 test tries have come at Rugby World Cups
Watch: A tribute to Frans Steyn
Watch: Steyn’s test debut in 2006