MARK KEOHANE writes Frans Steyn, against the Stormers, will show Heyneke Meyer why he should start at No 12 for the Boks.
Jean de Villiers has been an outstanding Springbok but I don’t see him making the 2015 World Cup and I think this year will be his last at the highest level. De Villiers will still add value to the Boks in 2013 but not necessarily in a starting capacity.
Bok coach Heyneke Meyer raved about De Villiers’s contribution as captain of the Boks in 2012 and indicated he would invest more in De Villiers this season, but the form of Steyn at No 12 could make it hard for Meyer to select De Villiers in his favourite inside centre position.
Steyn has always been used as a fullback and inside centre at the Sharks. On occasion he has played outside centre, wing and even flyhalf, but in his three years at Racing Metro he made the midfield his own and was primarily selected for his physicality in the centres.
Steyn, when he helped win South Africa the World Cup as a 20 year-old, was already a big unit but he is physically imposing in stature and his kicking game and all-round skill level means his physicality is often not acknowledged.
He is a beast in the midfield and weighs over 100 kilograms and is well conditioned. He is strong in contact and he is the only midfielder in South Africa who can consistently stand up in the tackle and offload effectively.
Steyn’s linekicking game makes him a gem at inside centre. He is strong enough to take it to the line and has strong distribution skills. But it’s that monster boot of his that keeps the defence honest and also keeps them hesitant. He provides a foil to Pat Lambie at No 10 and having two such capable out of hand kickers makes it a nightmare for any opposition fullback.
Last year I asked 102-Test Springbok fullback legend Percy Montgomery who he would select at inside centre for the Boks. He said he would pick Steyn ahead of De Villiers but he felt De Villiers at No 13 or on the wing still offered South Africa options and he added he would select both in his run on XV.
But it was Steyn who got his nod at 12 because of how difficult his selection made it for any opposition back three.
‘Jean has fantastic qualities but he has never had a line kicking game. As a fullback you know he is never going to play for field position by way of his boot and you can positionally defend the back three axis relatively confidently against a 10/12 combination in which the 12 doesn’t have a kicking game,’ said Montgomery. ‘It changes the dynamic completely when a side has a 12 like Frans who can kick the ball further than most international 10s and he can cause a lot of uncertainty to a back three, especially if that back three includes wingers who don’t have strong kicking games. He gets the ball one channel out and he can chase you around from side to side and force back a pressured clearance, in which he gains 30-50 metres and his team gets the ball back.
‘I think he is a gem at inside centre and that is where I’d play him all the time with the Boks. He has matured his game in France and he has added composure to the physicality he has always naturally had. He has also taken ownership of his game and has been rewarded with the captaincy at the Sharks.’
Steyn will benefit from playing inside centre consistently this season and Lambie, if fit, being the regular No 10.
De Villiers will play either No 13 or No 12 against the Sharks on Saturday, depending on the fitness of fellow Bok Juan de Jongh, but either way he and Steyn will enjoy a rare head to head battle that should give Meyer an insight into what will best work for the Boks this season and more specifically in his build-up to the 2015 World Cup.
Currently I would pick De Villiers at outside centre for the Boks in 2013 and Steyn at No 12.
Saturday in Durban will tell you why.
Steyn, like Dan Carter, is gold among the world’s backline elite. He has the X-factor.