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Neil de Kock: Frans Steyn selection shows Boks favouring experience over youth

By Neil de Kock
(Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

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In the injury-enforced absence of Damian Willemse and Handre Pollard plus the unavailability of Elton Jantjies, Frans Steyn has been selected at flyhalf for South Africa.

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14 years after starting his only previous test at 10, he will reprise his role. It’s an amazing story because his halfback partner, Jaden Hendrikse, was eight years old when Steyn last played as Bok pivot. A 16-year Test career is testimony to his reliability, his versatility as a player (he has played everywhere in the backline bar nine) and what he has contributed to Springbok rugby has been phenomenal. Steyn was out of the Bok mix for a while and went overseas. He also had some injuries but you can’t keep a lid on class. I always think of him as a youngster but the reality is that he is now one of the old heads around. It’s a different hat for him to wear but one that he is doing really well.

It’s difficult to say whether the Boks have erred in terms of their succession planning at flyhalf with Steyn now 35. You’re always between a rock and a hard place going with the tried-and-tested experienced head as opposed to opting for someone new and fresh who hasn’t been in the system for a long time. Some might see it as being disruptive having Steyn at 10 but, looking at the bench split we have gone for again, I think it’s probably quite clear that we are going to play a certain way. Frans is definitely capable of stepping up and fulfilling the flyhalf role. He’s going to be very strong defensively, he’ll be able to carry the ball to the line and has got a boot that can kick the ball 70 metres.

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In terms of the Springboks’ long-term future at 10, the coaches will know where the talent lies. We have seen quite a bit of Jordan Hendrikse, Jaden’s young brother, and he’s a 10 who can play. Manie Libbok is another name that has often come up, along with Chris Smith, who has performed with aplomb at United Rugby Championship level.

There is plenty of talent out there and it’s a case of giving the guys time under the belt to express themselves and show what they can do at that level. Some specialist flyhalves in South Africa would feel hard done by given some of the form they have come off over the last seasons but even as far back as when I played, coaches opted for experience over youth. It’s a big game on Saturday against Argentina and it’s for the Championship. The squad has been together over a number of weeks and to bring in someone new in such a pivotal position in a deciding Test match would have been a massive call as well. The national coaches have gone with the tried-and-tested and that’s ultimately their decision because they are the ones who get judged by those calls.

Over the last few weeks there have been off-field issues the men in green and gold have had to deal with but I don’t think it’s any different to whenever the Springboks play.

There is always going to be a contingent out there trying to disrupt them. When you’re a top team, you’re invariably going to have those detractors and haters out there that will try to derail you, stoke the fires and disrupt you as much as possible to put you off your game. I’m sure there are some out there trying to do that but whether it’s warranted or not is not for me to judge or comment on. That said, there’s always going to be that element to professional sport when you are one of the top teams in the world.

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I was part of the Springbok squad when the Kamp Staaldraad situation took place. When the scandal broke it was post-World Cup and everyone had returned to their respective clubs and provinces. We didn’t still have to embark on a World Cup, so by the time that was released, it was a little bit different. It was obviously massively scandalous and not a high point for South African rugby at that time. But I suppose it was a lot harder for some than others. Back then, I was a 24-year-old and was sort of blinded by it all and just carried on. Had you asked the question to some of the team leaders and coaches at the time, I suppose there would be different answers that you’d get from them. It’s sometimes hard to focus on the job at hand when there are those sorts of things going on. Reflecting on 2003, it was an interesting time, to say the least…

Jacques Nienaber has admitted his irritation in terms of having to deal with off-field issues. Ultimately, a coach wants to coach and they don’t want to be sidetracked by all the noise so to speak. But I suppose it’s part and parcel of the job and even coaching at school level is probably 50 per cent administration and 50 per cent coaching. When you’re a coach through and through and it’s in your blood, you want to coach to the best of your ability with minimal disruptions. I feel for Jacques because it’s never good and that sort of stuff sticks with you. Attempting to put out fires while trying to coach to the best of your abilities must be extremely difficult. But Jacques is no stranger to the pressures of coaching and he’ll have a plan in place and good people around him to help navigate it.

Following an 11-year career with Saracens, which saw him earn 264 caps, Neil de Kock now works in the rugby division at the Stellenbosch Academy of Sport. De Kock, who featured in 10 Test matches for the Springboks, provides RugbyPass with expert insight and opinion focusing on South Africa.

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