After such a negative article yesterday, I reckon it’s time to counter by discussing some positives. Francois Steyn, precocious talent that he is, may have turned in a woeful performance at flyhalf on Wednesday, but that doesn’t mean that the youngster can’t still have a huge impact for both the Sharks and Springboks in 2009. The only question is, where?
The most important thing to remember about Steyn is that he is still only 21 years old. The 27-test veteran made his first-class and international début at only 19 and he has become such a fixture on the scene that it’s easy to forget that he still has easily a decade of top rugby ahead of him. In the words of the Carpenters, “we’ve only just begun…” and there’s plenty of time to mould Steyn into a proven matchwinner, in virtually any position. Sure, he’s not currently good enough to play flyhalf, but maybe three good years of continuity in a related position will turn him into a good pivot – all before his 25th birthday!
Steyn has started 13 tests and of those, the majority have been at inside centre (7). He has started three times at fullback and once each at left wing, flyhalf and outside centre. Is it any wonder the poor lad is confused? To have already operated, whether as a starting option or replacement, at every backline position bar scrumhalf for one of the world’s premier international teams before the age of 21, is frankly phenomenal. My feeling, though, is that it’s equally harmful for him to have done so.
Steyn needs to find a position – this much is clear. He faces exactly the same predicament that Ruan Pienaar is currently negotiating his way through and while Pienaar now seems to be, somewhat reluctantly, embracing his role as a flyhalf, Steyn needs to shut the door on that particular position, at least for the time being, as he works on building continuity in another role.
It has to start with the Sharks and with John Plumtree. The pragmatic New Zealander had just the tonic to get Pienaar back on his feet and he’ll do the same with Steyn. What is crucial is that Steyn needs to use the 2009 Super 14 to rebuild his confidence and stake a proper claim to a regular Bok starting berth. Balancing the player’s own ambitions with the needs of the team will be paramount, but Plumtree’s “team first” ethic will prevail. All that remains to be seen is whether Steyn chooses to embrace it, or to carry on down his own headstrong path. If the latter eventuates, don’t be too surprised to see the youngster part ways with the Durban franchise when his contract expires at the end of next season.
Given Bradley Barritt’s recent departure and Ruan Pienaar’s emergence as a flyhalf of genuine class, Steyn’s Sharks future would appear to be at inside centre. It’s the position in which he has never really looked out of place and his experience there would give him a good base from which to work on the weaker aspects of his game – distribution and option-taking – which become so much clearer at pivot. It’s the safety-first option and with Pienaar inside, Steyn would have ample opportunity to weave his magic. There’s a strong school of thought, though, that Adrian Jacobs is the man who will offer the Sharks most at his favourite position of inside centre. Does Steyn then need to move to outside centre and start all over again in yet another position? What of Waylon Murray, then, another player facing an uncertain future heading into 2009?
The other obvious option is to develop Steyn as a fullback. He has played very little in the last line of defence, since representing South Africa in the number 15 shirt on three occasions in 2006. It is a position that many feel will suit Steyn to a T, allowing him to use his big boot, safe hands, excellent defence and counter-attacking nous to best effect. His ability to (occasionally) land drop-goals from 60 metres out should give the opposition plenty to worry about as well. There are two problems, though. First, Steyn doesn’t want to play fullback and he’s a very headstrong young man. Secondly, fullback is also a position requiring a fair amount of pressure decision-making. This is clearly a weakness of Steyn’s and on that alone, it would be sheer madness to pick him in the last line for the Sharks ahead of the canny Stefan Terblanche.
No, for my money, Steyn needs to turn in 15 good games in the Sharks number 12 shirt next year. He has the inside lane and now needs to repay the faith and show his coach what he can do. Only after he’s successfully ticked that box should we start to get concerned about where (and if) he should pay for the Boks in 2009.Tweet