France Stein has spent much of his rugby career doing things on his terms, but in the end he was unable to craft the perfect exit from the game in the way he often produced a great moment of brilliance.
A knee injury and body hit the 36-year-old who had 18 years of professional rugby and nearly 16 years of Test rugby.
There may not be another like him. From the gruff teenager who looked like an angel and played like the devil, to the elder statesman who threw a beer with the fans after the matchSteyn was a one-of-a-kind rugby player.
He has had three incarnations as Poke – the first from 2006 to 2012, the second in 2017 and the third from 2019 to 2022.
Talent has never been an issue. No commitment on the pitch, but like all geniuses he also had a tough side and wasn’t always the easiest player to manage.
Once he matured into an established international, he began flexing his muscles as a person rather than just a rugby player. This included withdrawing from South Africa to France at a time when it was not easy to select Poke players if they were not homegrown.
In 2014, after being recalled following a change in selection policy, he dramatically withdrew from the Bock squad on the Monday before a Test against Wales due to An ongoing dispute over payments related to his image rights.
Although he was named in the 2015 Rugby World Cup (RWC) training squad, he never tried and his test career seemed to be really good.
In all, his time in France and encounters with the South African Rugby Union cost him nearly five years of Test rugby and north of an additional 40 Test matches.
But his talent was undeniable and he was called up for a home series to face France in 2017 before injury ended the season after just three matches.
His third stint as a boc, starting in 2019, included winning his second Rugby Championship and World Cup title in Japan, and he went on to win another series against the British and Irish Lions in 2021.
In 2022, at the age of 35, he played sensational rugby and looked poised for another trip to the World Cup, before injury intervened.
“The past few months have been difficult, accepting the thought of saying goodbye to the game that has been my entire life,” Stein said in a statement.
“In response to the many questions I have faced since sustaining a knee injury earlier this year, I am announcing my retirement from professional rugby.
“To be honest, that wasn’t how I envisioned the end of the journey. Every player wants it to end on their own terms, but I’m fortunate to have played this game for so long and [am] So grateful for the trip I had.
“I gave her everything I had, and I have no regrets. I have a tremendous number of people to thank from all over the world for the support she has given me throughout the highs and lows of my career.
“I will be forever grateful for the opportunities, friendship, memories and lessons that rugby has given me. I look forward to the next chapter and the opportunity to give back to the game that gave me everything.
“Thank you for all the support. It has been a great honor.”
Frans Stein was always special, even when it wasn’t intended. After being lectured by the referee during his World Cup debut against Samoa in 2007, the 20-year-old swore loudly, captured by television cameras and microphones.
The next day, when confronted with the media, a baby-faced Steyn admits that he is his grandmother He scolded him for his bad manners. He looked really scared. It wasn’t for show.
He may have been precocious and a rare talent, but he has preserved some old values, respectfully referring to this writer as “OhmAt RWC 2007, even though I was only in my mid-30s.
Of course, Steyn was a rugby player from generation to generation and a rare athlete who played in multiple positions, all with brilliance. He won two World Cups and is the longest-playing Springbok. With 15 years and 317 days passing between his first and last exams.
He made his debut as a 19-year-old as a winger on 11 November 2006 against Ireland at Lansdowne Road and played his last test against Argentina on 24 September 2022 at King’s Park.
In total he played 78 tests for the Boks, scoring 11 tries and 165 runs at five different back-line positions, excluding scrumhalf.
Six of those points came weeks before the 2007 Rugby World Cup, when, aged just 20, he came off the bench at Newlands and scored two stunning goals to lead the Bucks from 19-16 to a winning final score of 22-19 over Australia.
Then a reporter unleashed, not a big question, but a statement about how the Australian had done something similar to the Bucks in 1999 when Stephen Larkham scored a wobbly goal in a World Cup semi-final.
The exasperated Wallaby captain, Stirling Mortlock, interjected: “What are you saying, mate? Are we karmically balanced now?”
Ah yes, Frans Stein had a way of karmic balancing the rugby world for the Boks.
Just a few months later, he scored a penalty from almost 50 meters in the World Cup final against England. It was done without any external signal of nerves.
Steyn was on the winning side 59 times in his 78 Tests (75%). Of the players who have represented the Boks more than 50 times, only back-up Gurthrö Steenkamp (41 wins from 53 Tests – 77%) finishes his career with a better winning record.
Among his many accolades, he also holds the unique record of being in the winning team in each of the 17 Rugby World Cup matches he has played.
Aside from lifting the Webb Ellis Cup twice – in 2007 Steyn became the youngest winner of the RWC Championship – he was also a member of the two Springbok teams that won series against the British and Irish Lions (2009 and 2021) as well as the Rugby Championship (2009 and 2019), winning Currie Cup with Sharks (2008) and Cheetahs (2023).
Furthermore, Steyn was awarded the SA Under-19 Player of the Year (2006), Most Promising Player of the Year (2007) and was a nominee for Rugby World Player of the Year (2009).
“It is safe to say that Frans Stein will go down in the annals as a legend of the South African Springboks Rugby team,” said Mark Alexander, SA President of Rugby.
“His achievements speak for themselves, but it is his discipline of working hard and always giving his best, his never-give-up attitude, and his will to reach the top that stands out. Whether he started a game or came off the bench, France never gave anything less than 100%.
“France was a phenomenon when he first appeared on the rugby scene as a teenager and he never held back, never backed down and always tried to find a way to help his teams win. He was a versatile player like the Boks in five positions at the back line and his kicking often delivered points when it looked like it mattered.” Impossible.
“On behalf of the entire South African rugby family, I would like to thank France for his tremendous contribution to the game we love so much, and we wish him and his family all the best in his retirement.” DM