Butch James will miss the British & Irish Lions tour while Frans Steyn will get his wish to play flyhalf – but not in South Africa.
French media confirm that Steyn has signed for Paris-based second division side Racing Metro, who have virtually secured their place in the Top 14. The year-long deal is reported to be the most lucrative ever for a South African player. Steyn will make the move to Paris after the Springboks’ end of year tour.
His negotiations with Racing was the worst kept secret in South African rugby and in recent months it became increasingly likely that Steyn would agree a deal.
A month ago Sharks coach John Plumtree told keo.co.za they were desperate to hold onto Steyn, but he was resigned to the fact that they would never be able to match what Racing was offering.
Steyn will play primarily in his preferred position of flyhalf for Racing. With Ruan Pienaar injured, Steyn has had an extended run at pivot for the Sharks, but has failed to shatter the widely held perception that he is better suited to inside centre – where the Sharks and Springboks see his future. He appears to be determined to prove he has the aptitude to play in the position.
James limped off in Bath’s Premiership match at the weekend and scans has subsequently confirmed that he has torn ligaments in his knee. He will be sidelined for an extended period.
This has created an unforeseen problem for Springbok coach Peter de Villiers, who keo.co.za understands would have included James in his squad for the British & Irish Lions series as back-up to Pienaar. James’s experience, gained over 36 Tests, as well as his goalkicking ability would have given De Villiers a solid insurance policy should Pienaar have lost form or sustained an injury.
De Villiers is known to be reluctant to invest in Steyn at flyhalf, and is likely to look to Peter Grant to fill the void left by James, while his admiration for Earl Rose, who has had limited game time for the Lions, will see him in the squad as the third flyhalf.
It now remains to be seen whether De Villiers continues to select Steyn given his strong stance on overseas based players, which has seen the likes of BJ Botha, CJ van der Linde and Joe van Niekerk (amongst a host of others) overlooked for Springbok selection.
By Ryan Vrede