Paris has had its fair share of South African rugby exiles, plying their trade with capital and Top 14 rivals Stade Francais and Racing-Metro.
When Morne Steyn touched down in the French city of lights in the summer of 2013, he was heralded as Stade’s star recruit having amassed 688 points in 59 Tests for the Springboks (only 18 of which were losses, eight times to Australia and seven times by New Zealand).
His metronomic kicking style and drop-goal capability were handed the perfect stage behind the oft-dominant ‘Bok and Bulls pack.
The 30-year-old holds the record for most consecutive kicks at goal in Test rugby, with a streak of 41 successful attempts in 2010, and is the South African record points scorer in Super Rugby with 1,467.
Quite some records, but Steyn has not had it all his own way since his arrival in Paris although he has an eye firmly fixed on making the cut for the Springbok squad for this year’s Rugby World Cup in England.
Jules Plisson has been Stade’s favoured playmaker, while Steyn also lost his ‘Bok place, coach Heyneke Meyer preferring Handre Pollard or Pat Lambie to the former Bulls veteran.
“I don’t like sitting on the bench, but it also gives a little rest to my body,” Steyn told AFP in an interview.
“It’s good for me to rest and not play all the games, but it will also make me work harder and get back into the number 10 jersey.”
Steyn admitted that it has been a tough adaptation to rugby and language in France.
“It’s been difficult to adapt, the whole language thing, especially in our game plan where the number 10 is making most of the calls,” he said.
“To get that confidence to speak on the field and be part of the leadership group is tough, but things are getting better.
“We have French classes every day and it’s coming on slowly. C’est tres difficile!” Steyn said, admitting that he and Stade’s other South Africans stayed close to their compatriots at cross-city rivals Racing-Metro.
He added: “The Top 14 is a bit different from Super 15. It’s physical and the weather doesn’t make it easier. The pace is much quicker in Super 15, this is slower especially when fields are wet, it’s more a forwards-dominated game.”
Steyn said his integration into the Stade set-up had not been helped by his travelling back to South Africa on international duty.
“The main reason why it’s so difficult is I’m here for six months and then I go back again for four months to South Africa, so it’s not the whole time with the Stade Francais team,” he told AFP.
“So that’s made it a bit more difficult for me, I’ve been going in and out the whole time. Maybe after the World Cup if I’m still playing with the ‘Boks or if I’m finished there it’ll be easier.”
After 10 years at the Bulls during which they won the 2007, 2009 and 2010 Super Rugby competitions, Steyn said his move to Paris was driven by a need to expand his game and also acclimatise to European weather ahead of the Rugby World Cup this year in England.
“Everyone’s doing well, especially the guys playing Super Rugby – Handre Pollard and Pat Lambie, there’s a couple of youngsters coming through. We old men must just work harder and fight for that number 10 jersey,” he said.
“Competition is always good because it always keeps you on your toes. Between 2009-13, I started all the games and it’s time for a new generation to come.”
But a spot in the Springbok squad for the World Cup remains a goal for Steyn.
“There’s still a long year to go so we’ll talk to the coaches and they’ll let me know. Hopefully I can be picked for the Four Nations before the World Cup and maybe prove my point there,” he said.
Stade coach Gonzalo Quesada said Steyn’s efforts had been stepped up.
“It’s going better and better. He’s starting to become increasingly dangerous and put some speed in our game,” the Argentinian said.
“The challenge we share with him is to bring him back to his best level.”