Bath in move for Steyn?

Reports from England suggest that Bath are poised to make a move to contract Frans Steyn.

The Independent reports that the Premiership club are keen to acquire the services of South Africa’s brightest young talent.

“His name is being bandied around Recreation Ground with considerable gusto, as is that of the All Black flanker Jerry Collins, and it is not difficult to see why,” Independent rugby correspondent Chris Hewitt wrote. “Olly Barkley, a goal-kicking centre in the form of his life, is in the last throes of his career at Bath before heading up the M5 to Gloucester, and Olly Barkleys do not grow on trees. If, as is widely expected, the England midfielder Toby Flood joins Leicester, the West Countrymen will have to look elsewhere to replace their most influential back.”

The Sharks lost Springbok flyhalf Butch James to a lucrative contract offer from Bath at the end of 2007 and Steyn’s departure would be a another massive blow to the Durban-based franchise.

However, Sharks CEO Brian van Zyl has strongly denied the rumours. “Thats absolute rubbish. Frans is contracted until the end of 2009 so it is impossible that he will leave before then,” Van Zyl told keo.co.za. “We’ve had no contact with Bath and neither will we entertain any offers for Frans He is a key player for us.”

This week SA Rugby announced that Steyn was among the group of 11 Springboks who signed a one-year contract. However, the outcome of Bakkies Botha’s pending legal action against the Blue Bulls Company will have a profound influence on how binding contracts are in future.

Botha is attempting to have his Bulls contract, which runs until 2011, declared null and void, allowing him to accept a multi-million rand contract offer from French second division club Toulon. Steyn is unlikely to follow a similar course of action should the rumoured approach be credible, but interest from European clubs will certainly intensify the closer he gets to the end of his contract.

IRB regulations prohibit any player or their representatives from negotiating with another union/franchise until 120 days prior to the expiration of the player’s contract. The Sharks will surely attempt to tie him down to a long-term deal well before the northern-hemisphere big spenders come knocking.

However, if Steyn left South Africa as a 21-year-old he would have, at the very least, 10 years of commanding a massive salary from whichever European club contracted him (should he choose not to return).

With SA Rugby poised to scrap restrictions on overseas-based players, Steyn’s Test career would not be threatened, although it would take a skilled juggling act to manage the club versus country clash. It would therefore not be inconceivable to suggest that Steyn could finish his career as the richest South African rugby player in history, given the extended time period he would be able to spend playing in Europe, when compared to the majority of his peers who move in their mid-to-late 20s.

With rumours abound linking Steyn to Bath, another former Sharks could well be on his way back from Europe. Van Zyl intimated that there is a strong possibility that John Smit could re-join the franchise by the end of May.

“With John having been appointed captain of the Springboks and [Springbok head coach] Peter de Villiers keen to see him playing in South Africa, we have been in contact. If he does return, it will have to be well before the Springboks’ first Test [7 June].”

The French season only concludes in six weeks time and Smit’s Clermont are currently embroiled in an almighty scrap with Toulouse for the top log position. Given that scenario, Clermont are understandably reluctant to release one of their prized assets and that situation could turn ugly in the coming weeks.

Van Zyl also confirmed that French maestro Frederic Michalak could return to the Sharks to play in the Currie Cup. Michalak injured knee ligaments in their match against the Waratahs, ruling him out of the Super 14, but according to his agent he does not require surgery and will be ready to play in six weeks.

“There is a chance Fred could come back but we haven’t seen any of his medical records yet. When we do we will discuss the issue,” Van Zyl said. “The likelihood is that Frans and Ruan [Pienaar] will be in the Springbok squad this season and that obviously leaves us short of options at flyhalf. We need to find a solution to that challenge and in that regard we haven’t completely ruled out a return for Fred.”

By Ryan Vrede