Frans Steyn dropped a bombshell on SA Rugby this week when he made himself quite suddenly unavailable for Springbok selection. No explanation was forthcoming from either SARU or the player himself at the time and this resulted in various rumours bouncing around various social media platforms in the days that followed as to the reason for Steyn’s decision. Now that the air has cleared and something of a reason has been given – by the player’s father no less – I find myself asking one question: Has the pride in donning the Springbok jersey diminished to such an extent that it gets brought to its knees by one player?
Frans Steyn has a case. The claims are that back when he was plying his trade for Racing Metro in the French Top 14 and making boat loads of money, he was promised a few terms by SARU in order to have him return home. We know that SARU doesn’t have the financial clout to have offered a contract equal to that of Racing Metro, so it is only fair to assume that Steyn was offered game time for the Boks. Sure Steyn struggled with injury – and his weight – last season and so was not able to see this promised game time and some would suggest that had he been injury free, he probably wouldn’t have started at 12 anyway given the form of one Jean de Villiers. One also has to question what will happen when Jean – who also happens to be the Bok captain – is fit again? That is a debate for another day, however.
Interestingly enough, Frans now finds himself in the position of being the only experienced centre fit enough to pull on the Bok number 12, yet he has declined this opportunity. Perhaps his misgivings run deeper than money and game time?
SARU have played a game which has worked for them in the past but seems to have backfired on them in this situation. The contracts they handed out which sees players able to ply their trade in Europe or Japan, yet be available for certain Bok games are masqueraded as “win-win” solution for all. Players such as Fourie du Preez, Bakkies Botha, Gurthro Steenkamp, Vetkop Steyn, Bryan Habana and Francois Louw have all received contracts like this. Whilst it may be a wine the players, their agents the viewing public, is it a win for South African Rugby and the Springbok Jersey?
Essentially SARU was cheapening the Bok jersey as they weren’t willing to stand up to the current stars of the game who were being lured by the European and Japanese paydays yet still had ambitions to play for the Springboks. They didn’t have the money to keep the players in South Africa yet didn’t have faith in the younger generation to take up the mantle and so found themselves stuck between a rock-and-a-hard-place. The moment they gave in to the first player looking to sign one of these hybrid-contract, they opened the door for every other player looking to do the same thing in the future.
They should have been hard-arsed about. What would the NZRU have done? What are they still doing? They tell those players looking for the payday to piss off.
“Sorry mate, if ya wanna go play ya rugby in France, that’s fine, mate. Just don’t expect to pull on the black jersey anytime soon.”
I don’t begrudge any player looking to make some money whilst he can in a profession which can end so suddenly however in my mind playing for your country should offer players so much more than just money. The honour of representing your country at the sport you love. Go make your money overseas, by all means. But understand that once you have left, you have given all the good which comes hand in hand with playing in South Africa. The packed stadiums, the passionate crowds, the culture and of course the honour of wearing the Green and Gold.
Players should understand the gravitas of that which is lost when they choose to leave. Yet they don’t because nothing is lost if you are a big name player. If you fall within the big name player bracket you can make your millions in Europe and still pick up caps for your country. With that in mind I can understand Frans’ frustration. He’s been a big name player since he was 19. Why should he have to give up his big-bucks contract? Why shouldn’t he be afforded the same privileges as other big name players? Why should he be lured back to South Africa with promises when the coach picks foreign-based players anyway? Call him what you like, his grievances hold sway.
The whole situation is a mess and really goes deeper than the current headlines. Frans Steyn is the one who has taken a stand and called ‘bullshit’ on a situation which has cheapened the Bok jersey. Whilst Heyneke says he doesn’t want to simply “hand out Test caps”, his selection policy – or lack thereof – is in fact cheapening said caps by giving them to foreign-based players who aren’t willing to guts it out in South Africa. What sort of message does that give to the up-and-coming generation? Why should they stay if those who haven’t, get rewarded?
In the words of Tank Lanning:
“I would rather have 15 debutants earning the right to that jersey than 1 prima donna turning it down because it does not come with enough money!”
It won’t get fixed in a day, that is certain. At least we are aware of the problems. Whether SARU are – or even care – is another question.
You stay classy,