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South African rugby’s prodigal son has returned. Francois Steyn left the land of his birth under a cloud in 2009 after an infamous fall-out with then Springbok coach Peter de Villiers to take up a lucrative offer from Parisian club Racing Metro.
But on Thursday he will be back to provide another piece in Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer’s jigsaw puzzle while providing Super Rugby depth for the Sharks.
Steyn fell out with De Villiers after he had asked for clarification on which position he was to play for the Springboks – he played wing, centre and flyhalf for the Boks under Jake White – and got no clear answer.
An olive branch of sorts was put between the pair ahead of the 2011 Rugby World Cup and Steyn played a strong role for the Boks in the New Zealand campaign but was injured in the Boks’ final Pool game – against Samoa – and returned home for an operation before the quarter-final disaster against Australia in Wellington.
Steyn has signed a three-year contract with the Sharks and is highly likely to resume at inside centre for the Springboks under new coach Meyer when the Boks play England in a three-Test series next month.
Steyn was sensational at the World Cup before getting injured and it is likely that veteran Jean de Villiers will move from inside centre to play outside him at 13 against England.
Sharks commercial manager Rudolf Straeuli said: “I am pleased that we are able to assist Sarfu in bringing back an international star in Steyn.”
Steyn will join the Sharks officially from July 1 and will not be considered for Saturday’s Super Rugby game against the Lions in Johannesburg.
Steyn played for the Sharks from 2006 until 2009. He made his debut for the franchise at just 18 and soon became famous for his long-distance kicking ability and strong tackling.
He made his Springbok debut at the tender age of 19, against Ireland, at wing. He has played 47 Tests for South Africa and scored 121 points. He has 56 caps for the Sharks and in France earned 61 for Racing.
Sharks supporters will have little trouble recalling that he scored the winning try in the 2008 Currie Cup Final played in Durban for the team to reclaim the trophy after a 12-year hiatus.
Sharks CEO Brian van Zyl said, “The present focus is on depth and ability to actively compete in every position in the squad so we are delighted to have Francois back with us to provide that strength in our backline, not to mention his very accurate boot.”
Coach John Plumtree said: “It is great to have Frans Steyn back with us as we did miss him.
“He was definitely an influential player when he left and he will be again, so it is fantastic to have him back at the Sharks.”