No Springbok return in sight for Steyn

Date published: May 19 2017

Less than a minute after answering the phone, François Steyn announced why he had missed Montpellier’s last game – ‘I just injured… I’m not sure what you call it. Something in my arse.’ – and it was obvious it would be an enjoyable interview.

Some players are wary of the press, but it’s safe to say the 2007 Rugby World Cup winner, who said he would remain in France until the end of his rugby career, does not fall into that category.

In case you’re wondering, the injury is healed and Steyn will be ready for Montpellier’s barrage game against Racing 92 on Saturday afternoon, where they will compete for a place in the Top 14 semi-finals.

The former Springbok had plenty to say on the benefits of playing in France, but his free-flowing conversation dried up somewhat when asked about South African rugby, the issues it is facing and whether he would return.

He said: “At the moment, my future is at Montpellier, I’m still enjoying it here and I’m not looking to go anywhere else.

“It’s tough for me, because I haven’t been part of Springbok rugby for so long. It’s difficult for me to comment.

“I always think that the problems come in when you can’t pick your best players, if you can pick your best players then you can win. Nobody’s phoned me, nobody’s talked to me and I’m just focussing on playing good rugby for Montpellier.

It was Steyn who made himself unavailable for selection before the Springboks faced Wales in 2014, but now watching from afar the 30-year-old hopes his national team can improve under Allister Coetzee.

South Africa lost nine of their thirteen games in 2016, something which was difficult to watch for Steyn.

He added: “I hope the Springboks do well, It’s not always fun to see somebody struggle, so it’s really hard.

“I think Allister is building a team and he should get a chance to see what he can come up with, maybe this year he wins everything – nobody knows.”

When pushed, the Montpellier centre admitted he thinks the remainder of his rugby career will be spent in France.

The circumstances surrounding Steyn’s withdrawal from international rugby were not completely clear at the time, as SARU Chief Executive Jurie Roux claimed the Springbok was taking a ‘break’ – though it seems Steyn felt he was leaving for good. Reports around the time suggested that Steyn's frustration was linked to an unresolve financial dispute with SARU.

He said: “I left the Springboks in a bad way. Everything that happened was bad, the way I left, everything was bad, it wasn’t good for anybody.

“I think when that happened, I thought I would never go there again, so that made it a little bit hard.

“I don’t really think about it, I’m here to play for Montpellier and to look after my wife and be a good Dad to my kids.

He concluded: “Until the end of rugby, I see the future of my family in France – I want to go back to South Africa afterwards.”

This desire to stay in France surely means the Top 14 suits Steyn, though the league can be much more physical than Super Rugby, where the back started out with the Sharks.

Indeed, Steyn rediscovered his candid honesty when asked about Montpellier and what brought him to the club.

He said: “I just thought I was at the age, or a point in my career, where I really wanted to be in the Top 14 and at that moment I signed the contract, I knew Montpellier could give me that.

“It’s not like I had options from all over the world, so at that stage of my life Montpellier was the best option and I’m really happy I took it because it’s been good for me and my family at the moment.

“The fans are enthusiastic, but only when you win. They can also get a bit frustrated when you don’t win, but that’s sport.”

And Steyn had an interesting comparison between French and Southern Hemisphere rugby: “Comparing the Top 14 with Super Rugby is like comparing the 1500m with the 100m in athletics.

“Super Rugby is a very tough competition, it’s just you don’t play the whole year round and with Top 14 you have to play a whole year.
“Mentally, you have to be ready for it, it’s not just a short sprint – you have to be ready every weekend.”

Steyn and his side will certainly have to be ready if they hope to make it past Racing 92, still reeling from the turmoil of a potential merger with Stade Français.

It has been six years since Montpellier made it to the final of the Top 14 and, according to Steyn, their fate this time around could all come down to the bounce of the ball.

“It’s a big match at our house, so there is a little bit of stress but at the same time Racing won it last year so all the pressure is on them,” he said.

“Everybody in the quarter-finals and semi-finals want to win this thing otherwise we’re wasting our time. 

“We believe we can win, but so do Racing, Toulon, La Rochelle, everybody really. Semis and quarters are a lot about the bounce of the ball, both good and bad.”

by Becky Grey