Mon, Nov 20, 2006 - Page 18 News List

Steyn's emergence a consolation for beaten Springboks

AFP , LONDON

South Africa may have gone down to a seventh successive defeat against England when losing 23-21 at Twickenham but one consolation was the performance of teenage fullback Francois Steyn.

Not since Andre Joubert retired have the Springboks boasted a fullback who combines ferocious defense with such an audacious flair for attack.

But Steyn, making only his second Test appearance and his first in the No. 15 jersey after a debut on the wing the week before in the 32-15 defeat against Ireland looked, albeit on limited evidence, to be a worthy successor to Joubert -- once dubbed the Rolls-Royce of fullbacks.

Last year Steyn's greatest claim to fame was spending time at All Black great Murray Mexted's academy in New Zealand and then the Natal Sharks' Academy in Durban.

This season, though, the 19-year-old was ushered into the senior Sharks side and sprung to prominence after converting a 55m penalty in a tropical deluge against Western Province at Kings Park.

Steyn did enough in his first season of provincial rugby to win a call-up to Jake White's squad.

He repaid that faith by playing a vital role as the Springboks came within a whisker of winning their first match against England at Twickenham since 1997.

At Lansdowne Road, Steyn grabbed a try and was one of the few Springbok successes in a dire defeat by Ireland.

In London he was in a more familiar role at fullback and showed his intent early on, by attempting a huge 60m drop goal which fell short and wide.

Undeterred by the heckles of the 80,000 crowd, he slotted a breathtaking 55m drop minutes later to level the scores at 6-6 and set the tone for a period of sustained South African domination.

In cruising to an 18-6 lead, Steyn continually harried England and had his moments in defense when the world champions hit back in the final quarter.

"We have a rising star in Steyn," coach Jake White said. "You know Jonny Wilkinson was discovered before the last World Cup and look what an impact he had. Steyn is having the tour of his life. I reckon that even if I put him on the bench he would still come on and win the man of the match award."

However, not even his biggest fan would suggest Steyn turned in a faultless performance. In common with his teammates, he made a few mistakes as the 'Boks surrendered a seemingly impregnable 12-point advantage.

But he did show enough to suggest, after a long interval where the likes of the wayward Gaffie du Toit and the suspect Percy Montgomery have struggled to convince as Test-class fullbacks, that South Africa may have unearthed a gem of a No. 15.

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