Steyn: talent that has gone to waist

28 March 2013 - 03:20 By Simnikiwe Xabanisa
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When John Plumtree put Sharks fans and Frans Steyn out of their misery by dropping the player from his starting line-up last week, the common refrain from the rugby public was: "What's eating the kid anyway?"

Much of the answer is actually in the question. Steyn has been around for seven years, but we still think of him as a kid in the back of our minds.

There's a simple explanation for that: he hasn't exactly kicked on from the man-child who took on the world as a 20-year-old with the side who claimed the World Cup in 2007.

In some way, it's not his fault. Motivation is pretty hard to come by when you kick off your career with the ultimate victory.

But the main culprit of what's going on with Steyn is that all of us - coaches, media and the public alike - are guilty of having taken turns over-indulging him throughout his career.

During each passing year, we make excuses for why he has struggled to become the rugby giant we thought he would be.

Plumtree's explanation for dropping Steyn last week was a case in point. Here was a seasoned coach defending a backline player for ballooning to nearly 118kg while he was injured. But forget that a centre allowed himself to blow up to the size of a lock.

Plumtree showed no guilt in admitting that he had effectively rewarded a fat and out-of-form player with a place in the starting line-up and the captaincy for the Sharks' first three games of the season.

Also, he focused on the presumable positives of Steyn now weighing in at 109kg - when his real fighting weight is around 101kg.

Nice little up yours to the team's other inside centre, Meyer Bosman.

If you're sitting there in judgment of Plumtree, consider that we've also been at the same thing for years. Like the New Zealander says, Steyn is a quality player, so we've all been incredibly forgiving of his shortcomings.

Former Springbok coach Peter de Villiers tried to take a hardline stance with a player who had a sense of entitlement after growing up in the Bok team, but he was castigated by the media.

The public are always prattling on about how Steyn, who was once described by former French player Thomas Castaignede as having had the rugby gods overlooking his cot when he was born, has the X-factor.

But it's only called the X-factor when the said player is known to do unpredictable things, not when opponents know he will repeatedly try to run them over.

Besides, as a colleague pointed out recently, Steyn's real X-factor is his prodigious kicking, which begs the question of whether that should be considered an X-factor? Fact is, if he insists on being rugby's answer to Benni McCarthy, he is likelier to become an ex-factor.

If the tone of this column is a little harsh, that is so because I share the frustrations of many who love their rugby and its players.

In the seven years he has been around, Steyn has shown that he has pace, power, size, handling, temperament, a ridiculous boot and the list goes on. But he has never harnessed any of that and consistently shown it during a season.

We're now at a stage when he needs to show us that he has learnt something from his travels with the Boks and Racing Metro, and not coasted on natural ability alone.

He needs to show us that he doesn't think coming back from France is doing the Sharks, or the local rugby public, a favour.

Otherwise, Steyn will join a long list of rugby players who could have been great.

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