Frans Steyn had his thrills and spills during memorable Springboks career

Springbok back Frans Steyn won two World Cups, but injury has robbed him going for a third title. Picture: Odd Andersen/AFP

Springbok back Frans Steyn won two World Cups, but injury has robbed him going for a third title. Picture: Odd Andersen/AFP

Published Jul 22, 2023


The sudden retirement of Frans Steyn is unquestionably a setback to the Springboks’ planning for the looming Rugby World Cup, and it is a pity the 36-year-old has had to surrender the chance to be the first player to win a third gold medal.

Frans Steyn was on course to play in his fourth World Cup when he suffered a leg injury playing for the Cheetahs in the Currie Cup in April.

Steyn was backed by Bok bosses Rassie Erasmus and Jacques Nienaber in his race against time to get fit for France, but ultimately he knew his body would not make it.

Steyn’s ability to play every position in the backline bar scrumhalf gave Erasmus the brainwave of forming the Bomb Squad, based on a bench of six forwards and just two backs.

Still, Steyn had a memorable career in the green-and-gold, and he will go down as a Springbok great.

In 2022, Steyn overtook Victor Matfield and Os du Randt to become the longest-serving Springbok of all time.

It was an incredible evolution from the precocious laaitie of 2006 to the hardebaard that played a significant role in the Boks beating the British and Irish Lions in 2021.

Steyn’s career spanned almost 16 years since he debuted on the left wing for Jake White’s Boks against Ireland at Lansdowne Road in Dublin in 2006.

He was the youngest player to debut for the Boks in the modern era (19 years, 181 days).

In his first seven matches for South Africa, he scored three tries and kicked four drop goals. Steyn scorched to 50 caps in record-breaking time, that milestone arriving when he was just 25.

The question is why was he “only” on 78 caps 10 years later? The problem is that Steyn twice had issues with the Springbok hierarchy.

Coach Peter de Villiers decided in 2011 that Steyn was too pushy about the position he wanted to play and discarded him, and then SA Rugby and Steyn fell out over a contract dispute in 2014.

The issue was medical insurance for the Paris-based Steyn, and he and SA Rugby could not agree on terms, which resulted in him being in the international wilderness for five years.

Many pointed a finger at the ‘hotheaded’ Steyn, but his teammates say he is an intensely private man who is not driven by ego, and has strong principles.

But let’s go back to the beginning … Steyn comes from farming stock in Aliwal North, and his father sent him to the Grey College rugby nursery in Bloemfontein.

As a teenager, he watched Jannie de Beer on television kicking five drop goals against England to propel the Boks into the semi-finals of the 1999 World Cup.

That inspired him to spend hours practising drop goals and goal-kicking on the school fields.

His dream would become a reality when he won Test matches for South Africa with his brilliance off the boot.

One such occasion was when he came on as a substitute at Newlands against the Wallabies in 2007. From the touchline, he nailed two drops towards the end to defeat George Gregan’s team.

Steyn joined the Sharks straight from school, and they had the foresight to send him to the IRANZ Rugby Academy in New Zealand, which was run by All Blacks legend Murray Mexted.

There he was schooled in backline play by the great All Black flyhalf Grant Fox, who also refined Steyn’s goal-kicking.

In 2009, after he had kicked three mammoth penalty goals to spearhead the Boks’ Tri-Nations win in Hamilton, Fox said “I did too good a job” as Steyn was nicknamed the ‘Rocket Launcher’ by the Kiwi media.

But he has also had his bad days. No Sharks fan will forget his impetuosity in the 2007 Super 12 final in Durban, when he fluffed an easy conversion attempt of Albert van den Berg’s try.

The kick should have been taken by Butch James, but Steyn grabbed the ball in a state of youthful exuberance and rushed the kick, only to miss the target.

And from the restart, the Bulls scored the seven-pointer they needed to win.

Steyn admitted that he still has the occasional sleepless night because of that rush of blood to the head.

But later in 2007, Steyn’s despair turned to joy when he replaced injured Jean de Villiers in the Boks’ victorious World Cup team. He would nail a crucial long-range penalty in the final against England at the Stade de France in Paris.

Steyn did not play for the Boks for five years, between 2012 and 2016, before Allister Coetzee recalled him in 2017.

His experience was invaluable at the 2019 World Cup where he convinced his teammates that losing to the All Blacks in a pool game was not the end of the world.

“The whole world was saying our World Cup was finished, because history showed that no team that had lost a game had rebounded to win the tournament,” Steyn recalled.

“Suddenly we were told that we were playing against history as well. What rubbish. I told the guys to shut the door on external negativity. I said history was there to be rewritten and not to dictate our fate.

“We were on a very clear path that had been mapped out by Rassie (Erasmus) long before we got to Japan. Detractors were there to be ignored, not listened to.

“We were being told that Italy were dangerous. I said to the guys, ‘With respect to Italy, why should we be afraid of them? We are the Springboks and a special group. We listen to ourselves, not to outsiders who know little about what we are actually about’.

“I was playing my third World Cup, and I felt it necessary to provide calmness and focus. Experience is invaluable at a World Cup. We were not going to listen to uninformed critics and be intimidated by historical irrelevancies.”

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