Steyn stalling on Sharks deal

Reports that Frans Steyn could be heading to Europe as early as October have been strengthened by the fact that he has held off on a contract extension with the Sharks.

The 21-year-old’s contract with the Durban franchise ends in October. Under IRB regulations he is allowed to negotiate with potential suitors, and his agent confirmed to weekend newspapers that there has been significant interest in him from European clubs, admitting to Sondag that Steyn was considering an offer from French second division club Racing Metro.

To their credit, the Sharks have not dragged their feet in trying to secure the services of one of the country’s most prodigious talents – with their initial offer reportedly tabled midway through 2008. Steyn was open to considering a one year extension (until the end of 2010) – further evidence perhaps that he is keen on the challenge, and financial rewards, of playing abroad in the very near future.

“The negotiations with Frans are ongoing,” Sharks CEO Brian van Zyl told keo.co.za. “Frans hasn’t given us any indication of his feelings on staying or going yet. Neither has he given us a timeframe in which he’ll make a decision.

“I’ve heard that there is interest in Frans from European clubs, although no formal approach has been made by any club to the Sharks. Obviously we can’t compete financially with contract offers from Europe, but we hope there are other factors, like the lure of playing for the Springboks and good management here (at the Sharks) that could strengthen our position in the negotiation process.”

Racing Metro have reportedly offered Steyn a contract valued at in excess of R4 million per season. An insider the Paris-based club has confirmed to keo.co.za that they are “extremely keen” to bag Steyn.

“The senior management have thrown his name around a bit recently. They’re obviously excited about the prospect of having a player of that calibre at their disposal,” the source said. “The boys have been talking a bit as well and obviously everybody is waiting in anticipation to see what happens there.”

The thinking at Racing Metro is that Steyn is a direct replacement for veteran flyhalf Andrew Merhtens, but that he will be able to cover in the centres and at fullback.

Racing are currently top of the Pro D2, four points clear of Albi with 12 matches remaining in the season. It’s logical to suggest that Steyn will wait to see whether they gain promotion to the Top 14 before making a decision on his future. It would be inconceivable to think that one of the world’s finest young players would be content with playing in the French second division, although Victor Matfield’s move to Toulon in 2008 proved the adage that every man has his price.

What’s more, now that the big spending bosses of European clubs know that Steyn is not closed to contract offers, the Sharks should expect mounting competition for his signature. How they and the Springbok management convince him to stay will be seen in due course. After all, what do you get for a player who has won the World Cup at 20?

The irony is that winning the Super 14 (Steyn was in the Sharks side who lost in the 2007 final) would be counter-productive to the negotiations with Steyn. He would then have won every major title there is to be won with the union, making an assault on the Top 14 or Premiership crown more appealing. Let us also not discount overtures from Australian franchises now that they are permitted to recruit one marquee foreigner.

Given his age, Steyn won’t be completely lost to South African rugby should he decide to leave. He’ll return in a couple of years in his prime, but Steyn’s coach at the Sharks, John Plumtree, stressed the point of concern best in a recent interview with keo.co.za, saying: “It’s crucial that the best players in South Africa are playing here. Having a French, English or Australian club benefiting from players we’ve developed just doesn’t make sense. We have to find a way to keep them here. But that’s difficult, almost impossible given the sums of money they are being offered.”

For the sake of South African rugby, let’s hope the heart rules the head in this instance.

By Ryan Vrede