Keo, in his weekly Business Day newspaper column, writes Butch James must be part of the Lions series in June.
Three things were reaffirmed at the weekend. Frans Steyn is not a flyhalf, the Cheetahs and Lions should not be playing in the Super 14 and Butch James has to be in the Springbok squad for the Lions series.
Steyn must lose his obsession with wanting to be firstly a flyhalf and then a rugby player. As rugby player he is one of the best in the world. He has a World Cup winners medal and a Currie Cup medal and was a losing Super 14 finalist. This he got all before his 21st birthday. The argument that from hereon in it is only downhill is strong, although Steyn’s future as a rugby player extends beyond titles and statistics.
It is Steyn’s maturity as a player that will determine how his career is remembered 10 years from now, and if he stays injury-free and commits enthusiasm and professionalism to the game then his is a name that will be revered. But not as a flyhalf.
Steyn, when playing for the Springboks against Italy at flyhalf, struggled and he was abysmal as flyhalf for the Barbarians in their defeat against the Wallabies at the new Wembley Stadium four months ago. In Brisbane, when forced to take over from the injured Ruan Pienaar, his performance echoed the horrors we saw in London. His time on the line kick is slow, his decision-making is sluggish and the confined space renders him claustrophobic. When Steyn plays at No 11, 12, 13, 14 and 15 he is world class, but when put in the No 10 jumper he goes from royalty to court jester.
Steyn’s name has recently been linked with a move to Europe and to Cape Town to play flyhalf for the Stormers. Steyn should never entertain the latter because it will be a lose-lose situation. He does not want to trade the winning culture of the Sharks with the shackled prison culture of the Stormers and he doesn’t want to further embarrass himself as a flyhalf. The move to Europe, though, should be a no brainer. It can only improve him as an individual, and experiencing two seasons in a foreign culture can only be beneficial to his maturity.
Rugby administrators need to stop losing sleep over players wanting to experience European rugby. Instead of threatening them with non-selection for the Springboks, they should let them go and if good enough still pick the player for South Africa. It is an all-win situation because the player is paid what he believes he is worth and the national side is never prejudiced. Rugby professionalism, at this juncture, does not allow for such logic. Perhaps in a decade all that will matter with national selection is how good a player is and not geographically his choice of residence.
Springbok coach Peter de Villiers’s insistence that he won’t pick overseas players for the Lions tour in June is unnecessary and short sighted. Why limit options when you have players like Shaun Sowerby, Daan Human, CJ van der Linde, BJ Botha, Joe van Niekerk, Marius Joubert, Michael Claassens and Butch James delivering week in and week out in Europe’s best competitions?
James, in particular, is an asset and Pienaar’s injury at the weekend was another reminder of the dangers of putting all the eggs into one basket.
De Villiers should be encouraging those overseas-based players that a Springbok jersey is still possible if they are playing well enough. Why give another country our talent because of pettiness and amateur-era thinking?
Playing overseas should not be confused with loyalty, which it often is. And a sense of loyalty should never come into it when assessing the case of a Super Rugby franchise from the Eastern Cape. The reality is no South African franchise can do worse than the Lions or Cheetahs, in terms of performance and crowd attendance.
South African rugby does not have the depth for five franchises, let alone six and to even suggest there should be six in an expanded Super 15 has no substance when you consider the historical tournament records of the Cheetahs, Lions and Cats (when the two provinces combined as a regional franchise).
Why can’t an Eastern Cape franchise replace the Lions or Cheetahs, next year? The answer is easy if anyone within the South African Rugby Union structures actually wanted a solution.