Steyn’s contribution may be limited for now
The announcement that Frans Steyn is coming home to Durban was great news for Springbok fans, but the benefit of his return to the Sharks will probably be felt more next year than in the current season.
While Steyn will be available to play the two key league matches that the Sharks will play in July in their quest to make the knock-outs, he is unlikely to be involved in the play-offs should they get there. There is a Sanzar ruling which prevents players appearing in the knock-out stages if they have not been contracted and declared by a franchise by the beginning of May.
There is a loophole that the Sharks could exploit if they wish to, but that would depend on them suffering a spate of injuries at inside centre, the position that Steyn is likely to play in the all-important derby against the Bulls on 7 July.
Tim Whitehead has been suffering from a groin injury over the past few weeks but he is likely to be back in action shortly, while Meyer Bosman has displayed solid recent form.
The other position that Steyn could conceivably fill is fullback, but the Sharks have a relative truckload of options there, with Riaan Viljoen and Louis Ludik presently not considered good enough to wear the No 15 jumper ahead of Patrick Lambie.
The last-mentioned player is likely to be Heyneke Meyer’s choice at fullback when the playing part of his era as Springbok coach starts against England at Kings Park on Saturday week.
Whether or not he is a short- or a long-term benefit for the Sharks is though a moot point at the moment – what is more important is that one of South Africa’s most talented players is committed to play his rugby in the country for the next three years. And that will have the benefit to Meyer of making his form easier to assess.
Meyer, talking at the conclusion of the Springbok planning camp held in Durban on Sunday and Monday, said that while he has long-term plans for Steyn, he is not sure at this stage whether he will be selected for the first test or that he will be available.
“There are a few things that need to be sorted out but hopefully he will be ready to play,” said Meyer.
Given though that he will have only a few days to work with Steyn before naming his team for the match, and the importance he attaches to players having a good knowledge of his systems, it is possible that Wynand Olivier might play inside Jean de Villiers in the first test, with Steyn being introduced either later in the game or the following week in Johannesburg, when he would have had more time to settle in.
Olivier has of course played for Meyer in the past and has been part of the planning sessions. Such a selection would give Meyer the comfort of knowing that he has three players lining up in the key decision-making positions from scrumhalf to No 12 who have played together often: Fourie du Preez, Morne Steyn and Olivier.
This might be particularly important given probable captain Du Preez’s absence from Super Rugby this year.
Alternatively, he could play De Villiers in his usual position of inside centre, where he has a good understanding of Steyn’s game after playing alongside him often at Springbok level, with his Stormers centre partner Juan de Jongh joining him in the midfield.