Ross Roche

By Ross Roche

Senior sports writer

What to do with Frans Steyn? Jean de Villiers on Bok predicament

De Villiers says that a role similar to that played by former Bok hooker Schalk Brits during the previous World Cup is a possibility for Steyn.

The recently decided Welsh incoming series saw the emergence of a potential new Springbok star in Damian Willemse, who enjoyed arguably his best ever showing in the green and gold since his Bok debut back in 2018.

With Willie le Roux then filling the utility back position on the bench, which was usually occupied by either Willemse or Frans Steyn last year and during the 2019 World Cup, it begs the question, is there still space in the Bok squad for Steyn ahead of the 2023 World Cup in France?

Bok head coach Jacques Nienaber pulled no punches before the Welsh series when admitting that Willemse was the next Frans Steyn, and was a project they had been working on since his debut four years ago.

With that plan coming to fruition at the same time that 35-year-old Steyn has been left out of the Bok squad due to injury is unfortunate, however, when he is back to full fitness former Bok centre and captain Jean de Villiers still believes Steyn has a place in the Bok set-up.

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“If you look at Frans Steyn, his experience just speaks for itself, having been able to be a part of the squad for such a long time and make such a big impact,” explained De Villiers.

“His form towards the end of last year and the impact that he had when he started was amazing, and when you have an experienced guy like that in your group playing so well it helps a lot.

“Obviously the latest injury has come at a bad time for him and Damian Willemse has played really well, fulfilling the same kind of role.”

De Villiers continued: “So what makes it difficult is you can’t really compare apples with apples. The last time Frans played for the Boks he did really well and Damian has been doing well now.

“The key will be to see when Frans comes back what kind of state he is in and then it’s down to form basically. Selection for the Boks has been quite stable during the tenure of Rassie (Erasmus) and Jacques, and Frans always played a part there.

“So you certainly can’t throw him out, but it’s definitely been made much more difficult with Willemse’s rise. All in all I think it just strengthens the squad.”

Impressive Le Roux

De Villiers was also very impressed with Le Roux’s efforts off the bench during the Welsh series and believes he can fulfil that floating role on the bench superbly for the Boks going forward.

“I think he showed that over the past series that he has what it takes. I think he went through a bit of a dip last year. But you can only go on form and I believe judging on this series Willie has been exceptional,” said De Villiers.

“In fielding the high kicks, sparking attacking opportunities and really changing the game in terms of that first Test match as well. So there is no doubt that he fulfils that (utility) role on the bench perfectly.”

Schalk Brits role

De Villiers admits that a role similar to that played by former Bok hooker Schalk Brits during the previous World Cup, where he was largely part of the squad due to his extensive experience, while also being a back-up in case of an injury crisis, could be the way forward for the versatile Steyn.

“Having all three of them in the Bok set-up just gives you so much variety. Frans is so valuable because he covers so many positions, which makes the opportunity for a six-two split (on the bench) so much easier and makes your pack much stronger,” said De Villiers.

“To make it a five-three split on the bench to accommodate him doesn’t make any sense, so I think going forward it’s going to be very much dependent on who is injured, who isn’t, and what the rest of the squad looks like.

“Schalk Brits added so much value to the Boks in the previous World Cup and I think they saw the value of that. It wasn’t just on the field, but it’s off the field where you can get a lot of value as well.

“What Frans has shown is that the last time he played for the Boks he did really well, and now he can add that skill and experience off the field as well. So I believe he can play a similar role, but it’s all down to form when you get to selection with more guys starting to become part of that conversation.”