Former Springbok centre Frans Steyn has spoken out for the first time since he controversially withdrew himself from the national team just days before a test against Wales, saying he wouldn’t “want the last six months of his life over again” as a result of the “fallout” between him and the South African Rugby Union (Saru).
In an exclusive interview with EWN Sport, Steyn also says that he’s “made peace” with his decision and that while he hasn’t ruled it out completely, it’s unlikely he’ll play international rugby again.
The 27-year-old was a member of Springbok squad for the June incoming tests and played in their victory over a World XV in Cape Town.
He was due to start against Wales in Durban the following week, but in a sudden move, he decided to leave the squad on the Tuesday before the game, “at his own request”, asking for “some time to consider his international future”.
The root cause, it transpired, that there had been a long-running dispute between the player and Saru over mechanisms by which one element of his Springbok remuneration was to be paid.
Steyn had returned from playing club rugby in France in 2012, having being lured back by coach Heyneke Meyer with a lucrative Springbok contract, one of the only players to be offered a two-year deal at the time.
While abroad, however, his image rights were handled by a third party, which was disclosed to Saru, and it’s around payments in this regard that tensions were raised as far back as 2013.
“It was a rollercoaster ride for me,” Steyn said.
“We got together in Durban that one week, it had started way before then and it was always at the back of my mind but at the stage I was just concentrating on my job at the Sharks. [But] when it came to the Springboks it was difficult for me because of the situation, and stuff I had to deal with there.
“We had a fallout earlier and then I went to the camp and we played the World XV, and then on the Monday, I can’t say that there was a vibe, but it was just different for me.”
Steyn’s departure left the Boks and Meyer stunned, with Saru issuing a short release at the time saying via their Chief Executive Officer, Jurie Roux, “He has asked for some time to consider his international playing future and we must respect that.”
The World Cup winner says that this ongoing issue cast a pall over his performance, which he felt was unfair on his teammates.
“When I started playing I told my agent Gerrie Swart that I won’t be a guy who’s just cruising along or enjoying the joyride. I want to be there and be happy, because this is my hobby and to give other guys a chance as well. When I was younger I wanted to play so badly and I can just imagine if there was somebody ahead of me that didn’t really want to be there. So, in that sense, I think it was just better for me to step out, my heart and soul wasn’t in it because I was disappointed at that stage and I think it was much better for Jan Serfontein and Damian de Allende to start.
“It was a feeling like I was letting myself down and letting my country down.”
Steyn says that he was in a difficult position.
“There weren’t a lot of options for me. Like any national side there’s only one way and that way didn’t suit me, so that’s what led to that (decision to leave the squad).”
He goes on to say that despite the drastic nature of his decision, on reflection, he still thinks it was the best thing to do.
“No, I wouldn’t change a thing. It was emotional at that stage but remember, just that situation, came from last year already, so it was a thing that was brewing for a long time.”
At the time, and without too much information forthcoming from Saru who maintained that their position as an employer forbid them from publicising details of what had transpired, the body was rounded on by the public for not doing enough to appease the player.
So, did Steyn feel that Saru had specifically reneged on a promise to him, or indeed had let him down?
“I can’t say they let me down because Jurie Roux went out of his way to talk to me and try and mend things, so from that side, I have the utmost respect for some of the guys still there. They, tried to move heaven and earth for me.”
Steyn confirms that he did consider delaying his decision to step down until after the final test in June against Scotland in Port Elizabeth but felt that would leave the national coach in an even more precarious situation.
“I wanted to but the main thing was I knew how Meyer was feeling and that’s one of the things, I thought I would pull out before the World XV game. And I knew that he had to prepare for the Rugby Championship. I think it would have been much worse pulling out after the ‘incoming’ tests before the Championship so that other guys can get a run and Meyer can see what he has in his players.
“I think I made the right call,” he says forcefully.
The Bok’s coach at the time was very complimentary of Steyn, saying that he respected his decision