Keith Nicholls
Keith Nicholls

Centre stage

For quite some time now, debate has ebbed and flowed over the value of Francois Steyn to the Bok cause and the position best suited to maximising this value.

There is no question that he can add value — young, big, fast, precocious, he seems to have it all.

By (mis?)fortune rather than design he now finds himself playing at inside centre in the Bok World Cup campaign, a position to which not many had considered him best suited.

He started his Test career on the wing against Ireland last year and was a shining light in an otherwise dismal performance. In his very next Test he was shifted to fullback. He has also spent a good portion of his time playing flyhalf.

So, naturally, much speculation has centred on whether his best position is fullback or flyhalf — or if his versatility makes him the perfect player to have as cover on the bench.

But then Jean de Villiers was injured and a collective chill ran through the spines of South Africa. And out of the De Villiers misfortune has come a new ray of hope for the country.

Steyn has slotted in seamlessly at inside centre and may well have found his perfect position … for now, anyway. He seems to have all the requisite skills: he can tackle, break the line, beat his opponent and offload and distribute effectively.

It must also be remembered that the world’s best flyhalf, Dan Carter, paid his dues at centre before shifting so successfully to flyhalf.

South Africa has been a bit thin on the ground at inside centre, and De Villiers was thought of as one of those players irreplaceable in the Bok World Cup bid. But Steyn’s performances have gone a long way to changing this perception.

In his short career, Steyn has experienced both the highs and lows of a sporting life. A try on debut and this year’s home Tri-Nations drop-kick display against the Aussies have been countered by the Super 14 final miss and the Tri-Nations bomb against the Kiwis.

So, it’s clear he is capable of both the sublime and the awful. But it’s the sublime we need, and if he can keep his head, who knows just how important he will be to South Africa’s Cup chances?

As an aside, mention must be made of the some of the great games we saw this past weekend. The Fiji-Wales clash was unbelievable, and the Argentinian taming of the Irish showed how it is possible for teams to progress from just making up the numbers to numbering among the best.