Steyn’s exit sign of broken Bok systemComment on this story
This is not the first time he’s done this; Frans Steyn has walked away from Springbok rugby before, and he may yet do it for a third time, writes Lungani Zama.
This is not the first time he’s done this; Frans Steyn has walked away from Springbok rugby before, and he may yet do it for a third time if he is welcomed back into the mix for next year’s World Cup.
Some have labelled Steyn’s bombshell as a cry for help from overworked players, but the self-same Steyn has happily played for the Sharks with a dodgy knee for two months.
The timing of his latest pout put his Bok teammates under unnecessary pressure in the lead up to Saturday’s first Test against Wales.
Incredibly, the vague statements that followed from the player’s camp and Saru suggested that the door to international rugby is not yet closed for Steyn.
It can’t have escaped his thinking that the World Cup is just over a year away, which is why a proper retirement would have been a step too far.
The door is left open just enough for a convenient Bok come-back, maybe sometime next year – after a lucrative stint in Japan.
Meanwhile, Steyn will happily keep playing for the Sharks on one leg, as he tries to win the one piece of silverware that has eluded him.
And therein lies one of the biggest problems in South African rugby. Our elite players have two bosses – their franchise wife, and their Bok mistress.
Steyn has chosen to prioritise the high-paying wife, and take his chances that the mistress will allow him back with open arms in a few weeks, or months, or a year, even.
But it shouldn’t be like this. Ideally, Saru should be footing the entire bill for the top players, and then dictating their playing schedules, in order to maximise these assets.
Then those who want to chase euros, pounds or yen can go and be mercenaries, and a quality squad can be built around those who stay home and commit to a four-year Bok project.
As things stand, our biggest international rivals are priming their best players for the Rugby Championship and the World Cup, while South Africa’s warhorses are being driven to the ground every week in Super Rugby, at the behest of their unions.
And while South African rugby is curtailed by a system that is not built to create the best-prepared Bok team, but the most successful franchises, the Australian Rugby Union can dictate that the Waratahs play without Israel Folau, and the All Blacks’ paymasters can hand out sabbaticals to senior players every five minutes.
This is why the Boks will continue to chase New Zealand’s coat-tails at the highest level.
The injuries suffered by Schalk Burger, Eben Etzebeth, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Pat Lambie, Jean de Villiers and so many others will keep happening, too, because the human body cannot cope with such an unrelenting schedule.
But none of them have turned their back on the Boks.
Steyn, however, has seen fit to drop his mates in the middle of a Test week. He must have known before last week’s World XV fixture that his heart or head wasn’t in it, and should have walked away then.
There are plenty of young players around, like his replacement Jan Serfontein and the beaming Lood de Jager – who proudly won his first cap on Saturday – who would do anything to don the green and gold. Their ambition hasn’t been dulled by the weight of millions in the bank, or their ego over-inflated by coaches telling them that they are the best thing since sliced bread.
As a 19-year-old, Steyn was precocious, capable of unbelievable strokes of genius.
But he has been half the player – and twice the man – since coming back from France, and he ought to have shown more respect for the Bok badge.
Far from his precocious youth, he has now become precious. Lest we forget, no one player is bigger than the game – not even a teenage World Cup champion.