Simple solution to Steyn saga

MARK KEOHANE, in his weekly Business Day column, says Peter de Villiers should have picked up the phone months ago and spoken directly with the Bok fullback.

Frans Steyn has told South Africans he is prepared to die for his country – on a rugby field that is. Personally I’d much prefer him to want to live for his country – on a rugby field that is. Steyn wouldn’t be worth anything dead.

The Springboks are a better side with a living Steyn at fullback, although there has been little life when it comes to communication between Steyn and Springbok coach Peter de Villiers, who last week publicly questioned Paris-based Steyn’s commitment to playing for his country.

Steyn’s response was by way of the media. He said he wanted to go to the World Cup. He said he was prepared to die on a field for the Springboks. He said in an interview with Rapport newspaper that he hadn’t spoken to De Villiers since a one-off appearance against Wales in Cardiff in June. The only communication was from convener of selectors Peter Jooste a few weeks ago to tell him he would only be considered for the Boks’ Grand Slam tour in November.

Then Steyn was picked for the home Tri-Nations Tests.

Steyn said he called the Bok coach and left a voice message. He hasn’t heard from him again. While Steyn was doing his talking in one Sunday publication, De Villiers was doing his in another and had this to say about Steyn and the 2011 World Cup in New Zealand: ‘Regarding Frans, I haven’t thought that far yet.’

It was the most revealing of responses because De Villiers seems to have thought about everything else in confirming he had already identified his World Cup squad and that there would not be enough time (more than a year) to introduce new players.

De Villiers also had a few other things to say, which I’ll get to, but what I can never understand – and De Villiers is not the exception among rugby coaches – is just why it is so damn difficult for a coach to talk directly to a player.

I can only think the problem is the size of so many coach’s egos. Do they consider it beneath them to be the first to call and is it the responsibility of the player to go on two knees in asking for personal communication?

Players don’t initiate communication with coaches because players don’t select themselves, but no coach can expect loyalty from a player when that coach can’t take the time to speak to the player and uses third parties and the public forum of the media to get across the message.

De Villiers did not want Steyn in his squad, which explains why he hasn’t ‘thought that far yet’ when it comes to Steyn’s World Cup ambitions. The senior players then insisted Steyn get selected, and with De Villiers having sworn allegiance to these senior players he was compelled to reintroduce Steyn to the national squad.

Steyn, in the interim, had got hurt in a pre-season club match and did not make it to South Africa. Now there is doubt over the seriousness of the injury and De Villiers, again publicly, questioned Steyn’s desire and how much the medical opinion can be trusted.

Steyn then fired back that there had been no communication between De Villiers and himself. And so it has continues … everything gets said in the media, but nothing gets said privately.

The situation would have been resolved months ago by one phone call, and if the coach had made the effort and Steyn had still played silly buggers then make it public, but the only thing De Villiers has made public is that he refuses to talk personally to Steyn.

Ideally you’d want a coach who actually wants to talk to one of the best players in the world, but generally when it comes to De Villiers you’d want him to do less talking and more coaching, assuming that he has it in him to actually coach.

And it is an assumption that I make with little conviction after reading De Villiers’ Sunday Times interview with Simnikiwe Xabanisa. His answers lacked reflection and introspection and rugby intelligence.

‘Studying our videos, it’s mind boggling to me why we didn’t win,’ was De Villiers’ response to losing 32-12 and 31-17 to the All Blacks and 30-13 to the Wallabies.

Mindboggling is more appropriate to De Villiers’ refusal to dial a number and tell a player he either wants him in his squad or doesn’t.

What should boggle the mind though is when your teams scores four tries and concedes one and loses. And for purposes of clarity De Villiers’ team scored the one try.

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