Where does Frans fit?
Tue, 22 Apr 2014 12:03
A rather pleasant headache
One of the toughest decisions facing Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer this year is where to play the Swiss army knife of South African rugby - Frans Steyn.
Steyn has always been something of an enigma since he burst onto the Springbok frame in 2006 as a freakishly talented 20-year-old who believed he could do just about anything he wanted with a rugby ball.
Having made his debut on the wing and featuring at inside centre at two World Cups, Steyn has played in every backline position for the Boks except scrumhalf in the course of his 53 Test caps.
Since his return to the Sharks from France in 2012 Steyn has spent most of his time on the sidelines through injury, but this year under his old mentor Jake White he is looking fit and hungry.
White has used him mainly at inside centre for the Sharks, although he has impressed in his cameos at flyhalf when Pat Lambie and Fred Zeilinga got injured, and his booming boot adds another dimension no matter what position he plays.
Although some may say that he is not the player he once was, with increased age and size making him a far more direct player who relies heavily on his physicality rather than guile, one person who should be getting quite excited is Meyer.
The Springbok coach certainly values the qualities that Steyn has to offer, but will have to do some serious thinking about where the versatile former 'wunderkind' fits into his team.
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Steyn's game this year has been his maturity under pressure and leadership, which will definitely appeal to Meyer who understandably places a high value on discipline and experience.
Meyer named Steyn at inside centre in his first Test in charge of the Boks in Durban in June 2012, and the most obvious call would be to put him back there alongside skipper Jean de Villiers who is equally capable in both midfield positions.
However, this would mean breaking up the record-breaking partnership of De Villiers and Jaque Fourie who got reacquainted on tour in Europe at the end of last year. Fourie will not be available for all of the Bok Tests this year, so it is likely that Meyer will try out a few different centre combinations to look at his options for the World Cup next year.
The chances of Steyn playing as an outside back seem pretty slim as he does not have the pace he once did and it is hard to see Bryan Habana, JP Pietersen and Willie le Roux being displaced in the starting line-up.
That leaves flyhalf as a final starting option, and it is not as far-fetched as you might think. With Pat Lambie injured, Johan Goosen struggling to assert himself in Super Rugby this year and Morné Steyn getting limited game-time with Stade Francais it could be an interesting calculated risk for Meyer to give him the No.10 jersey in one of the upcoming Tests against Wales or Scotland to see how he goes.
Steyn's versatility could well see him start on the bench to give Meyer's side some late impetus, although that may negate the strength of his long-range goal-kicking as most of those opportunities will come in the first hour of the game before defence's have started to tire.
Whatever your view on Steyn and how he should be used by the Springboks there is no doubting that he is giving Meyer a rather pleasant headache at the moment as he considers how to fit him into the team that beat everyone except the All Blacks last year.
By Michael de Vries
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