RYAN VREDE writes the Sharks will reap the benefits of a refined and improved Frans Steyn.
Steyn, who recently re-signed with the Durban franchise after four seasons with french outfit Racing Metro, will start at inside centre in the showpiece game of the South African conference this weekend. The Durban franchise has been inconsistent and largely uninspiring, but Steyn has the potential to galvanise them.
I recently interviewed Jean de Villiers for SA Rugby magazine and during the course of the interview asked him to compare the player Steyn was before he left for Paris and the one he is now. ‘Massive difference,’ De Villiers said. ‘He has grown up as a player, he is more intelligent and composed.’ De Villiers continued to point out the positive effect marriage and fatherhood has had on him, and predicted that it would be the same for Steyn, who wed a fortnight ago.
He added that his time at Munster had allowed him to add attacking weapons to his armoury that playing in the southern hemisphere couldn’t develop, and that he had seen that in Steyn as well. Steyn, he said, was the prime example of the potential benefits of a young Springbok going abroad at the right time of his career and for the right reasons.
Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer has massive belief in Steyn and rates him significantly more highly (in the context of his game plan) than any of the inside centre options available to him. During the England series Meyer was clear in his directive to Steyn to use his pace and physicality to get across the gainline as often as possible, as to give the team momentum that would aid its attacking cause.
He did so to good effect, consistently tormenting the tourists’ 10-12 axis. He fronted superbly on defence as well, combining with De Villiers to repel the advances of England’s strike runners, most notably Manu Tuilagi. His value was evident in his absence in the third Test.
He has an X-factor, certainly, but now he also has a quality best described as presence, an aura, a quality shared by the elite players in the game. This is something he lacked as an undeniably talented, but raw youngster. Time and circumstance has refined him and the Sharks will reap the benefits in the years to come.
His immediate value will be on display on Friday evening at Kings Park in a derby against the Bulls. A victory is imperative for the Sharks to stay in the hunt for a play-off spot. Of course Steyn’s potency depends heavily on his pack’s ability to give the back division a platform they can exploit. They’ve struggled to do so consistently this season. But with Steyn in tow, the incentive to establish such a platform will be great.