Basic instinct

Jake White believes that Frans Steyn must be allowed to play his natural game.

jake-marchPeople are often very critical of Frans Steyn whenever he makes a mistake on the field. They say that he takes far too many risks and is often more of a liability to his team than an asset. I can’t understand this view, because in Steyn we have a player who will win far more matches for the Sharks and the Boks than he’ll lose. Surely that’s someone we should appreciate, not ridicule?

I’m often asked how good Steyn really is. My answer is simple. How many South Africans, in any position, do you know who have played 27 Tests for the Springboks at the age of 21? And how many do you know who have won an U19 World Championship and a World Cup at that age?

The rugby public tends to have very short memories. In 2007, Steyn won a Tri-Nations match for the Boks against the Wallabies at Newlands when he kicked two late drop goals, including one from the touchline. And what about the crucial 55m penalty he kicked in the World Cup final? That meant England were under huge pressure and had to score twice to win the match.

When I coached Steyn with the Boks, I encouraged him to play his natural, instinctive game. No coach should try to make him adopt a more conservative approach, because that would take away his X-factor. My advice to his coaches is to make sure he knows that you back him 100% and that there won’t be a knee-jerk reaction if he does make a mistake. That will allow him to play with freedom, which is usually when he produces his best performances.

There’s been a lot of debate around where Steyn should be selected for the Sharks and the Boks. I know he wants to play flyhalf but that’s definitely not his best position. I picked him at 10 against the World XV in 2006 because we didn’t have many other flyhalf options and I wanted to see what he could do, but it was never going to be a long-term thing.

In this column seven months ago, I said Steyn’s best position is fullback and I still believe that. He’d make even more of an impact there because of the new law that prevents a player from kicking directly into touch from inside his 22 if the ball was passed back into the 22. Kickers are now forced to keep the ball in play, which would allow Steyn to go for several drop goals from the halfway line. If he succeeded he’d get three points, if he didn’t, the opposition would have to drop out from the 22 – a win-win situation.

However, Steyn could also do very well at inside centre – where the Sharks plan to play him this season. He has a lot more time to make decisions there than he does at 10. I just hope the Sharks give him a chance to settle into the position because the way he was moved around the backline during last year’s Super 14 did disrupt his game.

I also hope that South Africans will appreciate Steyn more in 2009 than they did in 2008, because he is a player we should all want to keep in the country for many years to come.

– White writes a regular column for SA Rugby magazine.