Sharks coach Dick Muir has shown that he has the Midas touch when it comes to unearthing young rugby prodigies and Francois Steyn is the latest to roll off the Sharks production line.
A fortuitous start in round one of the Absa Currie Cup against the Vodacom Cheetahs paved the way for 19 year-old Steyn to sear a lasting impression on the mind of his coach, teammates and the public.
His calmness under the trademark Willem De Waal bomb and fearless counter-attacking belied his age that day, and was reminiscent of the outstanding performances by some of the great Sharks fullbacks like Andre Joubert and Hugh Reece-Edwards.
“It was an amazing experience making my debut in that match,” he told keo.co.za. “My team-mates made it easier for me to perform well. The senior players in the team mentor the younger guys like me and help us with our game and off the field aspects and activities that go with being a Shark.”
He starred in the Under 19 World Championships at flyhalf, but with Bradley Barritt seemingly being Muir’s first-choice pivot, Steyn has had to adjust to life as a fullback. He adopts a diplomatic approach when probed on the subject.
“I am happy to play wherever Dick needs me,” he said. “I have also played at inside centre. Recently I have played more at flyhalf than any other position but still have a lot to learn about both the flyhalf and fullback positions.”
With JP Pietersen back for Saturday’s game against the Lions, Steyn finds himself consigned to the bench. But is he happy with his lot as a substitute or does he harbour loftier ambitions?
“A little bit of both,” he laughs. “I am patient because I am young – I have just turned 19 and I know that I have a lot to learn, but like all players in the squad I want to play regularly.
“For now tough I consider it an honour to be selected in the match-day squad and I’ll make the most of the opportunity if I got on.
“Looking further than that I want to contribute to the Sharks’ Currie Cup campaign if I am needed and it would be great if the team went all the way.”
He is renowned for having a solid work ethic and is said to be constantly evaluating his game and seeking counsel about areas of weakness.
“Like all the players in the Sharks squad I am always working to improve my game, more recently I have been concentrating on being able to pass both ways equally well. KZN Under 19 coach Charles Louw has helped me a lot in this area.
“I would like to cement my position in the team and I am prepared to put in the hard work to get there, he asserted.
“After that the my next goal would be to play Super 14 for the Sharks.”
By Ryan Vrede