In the forced absence of Damian Willemse and Handre Pollard and the unavailability of Elton Jantjies, Frans Steyn has been selected as fly-half for South Africa.
14 years after starting his only previous test at age 10, he will reprise his role. It’s an incredible story because his half-back partner, Jaden Hendrikse, was eight years old when Steyn last played as a Bok centre-back. A 16-year Test career is a testament to his reliability, his versatility as a player (he played all over the bottom nine bar) and what he has contributed to Springbok rugby has been phenomenal. Steyn was out of the Bok mix for a while and went overseas. He’s also had a few injuries but you can’t keep a lid on the class. I always think of him as a youngster but the reality is that he is now one of the old faces around. It’s a different hat that he wears but that he wears very well.
It’s hard to say whether the Boks got it wrong in terms of their succession planning at the opening job with Steyn now 35. You are still between a rock and a hard place with the proven experienced head instead of going for someone new. and fees that hasn’t been in the system for a long time. Some might see it as disruptive to have Steyn at 10 but, looking at the bench distribution we have again, I think it’s probably pretty clear that we’re going to play a certain way. Frans is definitely able to step up and fill the flyhalf role. He is going to be very strong defensively, he will be able to carry the ball to the line and has a boot that can kick the ball 70 yards.
When it comes to the Springboks’ long-term future at 10, the coaches will know where the talent lies. We’ve seen quite a bit of Jordan Hendrikse, Jaden’s younger brother, and he’s a 10 that can play. Manie Libbok is another name that comes up often, along with Chris Smith, who played with aplomb at United Rugby Championship level.
There’s a lot of talent out there and it’s all about giving the guys time to express themselves and show what they can do at this level. Some specialist fly-half in South Africa would feel uncomfortable given the form they have acquired over the past few seasons, but even as far back as when I was playing the coaches opted for experience rather only for youth. It’s a big game on Saturday against Argentina and it’s for the Championship. The team have been together for several weeks and bringing in someone new in such a crucial position in a decisive Test match would also have been a massive call. The national coaches have chosen those who have proven themselves and it is ultimately their decision because they are the ones who are judged by these calls.
Over the past few weeks there have been issues off the pitch that the men in green and gold have had to deal with, but I don’t think that’s any different to every time the Springboks play.
There will always be a contingent that will try to disrupt them. When you’re a top team, you’re invariably going to have these detractors and haters who will try to derail you, fan the fires, and disrupt you as much as possible to discourage you. I’m sure there are those who try to do so, but whether it’s justified or not is not for me to judge or comment on. That said, there’s always going to be that element in professional sports when you’re one of the best teams in the world.
I was part of the Springbok team when the Kamp Staaldraad situation took place. When the scandal broke it was after the World Cup and everyone had returned to their respective clubs and provinces. We had yet to embark on a World Cup, so when it came out it was a bit different. It was obviously massively outrageous and not a high point for South African rugby at that time. But I guess it was a lot harder for some than for others. At the time, I was 24 and kind of blindsided by it all and carried on. If you had asked some team leaders and coaches at the time, I suspect they would have gotten different answers. Sometimes it’s hard to focus on the job at hand when things like this happen. Thinking back to 2003, it was an interesting time to say the least…
Jacques Nienaber has admitted his irritation at having to deal with problems off the pitch. Ultimately, a coach wants to coach and he doesn’t want to be distracted by all the noise so to speak. But I guess that’s part and parcel of the job and even coaching at the school level is probably 50% administration and 50% coaching. When you’re a coach through and through and it’s in your blood, you want to train to the best of your abilities with minimal disruption. I feel sorry for Jacques because it’s never good and that kind of thing sticks to your skin. Trying to put out fires while trying to train to the best of your abilities must be extremely difficult. But Jacques is no stranger to the pressures of training and he will have a plan in place and good people around him to help him navigate it.
After an 11-year career with Saracens, which saw him win 264 caps, Neil de Kock now works in the rugby division of the Stellenbosch Academy of Sport. De Kock, who appeared in 10 test matches for the Springboks, provides RugbyPass with South Africa-focused news and expert opinion.
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