By Nick Said
SHIZUOKA, Japan (Reuters) – Braam Steyn may have once dreamt of pulling on the Springbok jersey but has no regrets as he seeks to help Italy provide the fatal blow to South Africa’s Rugby World Cup hopes in their Pool B clash at the Shizuoka Stadium on Friday.
Loose-forward Steyn is a former roommate of Bok lock Eben Etzebeth, and played with the likes of Handre Pollard, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Frans Malherbe and Cheslin Kolbe for the Junior Springboks before leaving for Italy in 2012.
But any former allegiances, or current friendships, will be put aside for 80 minutes as Italy seek the win that will seal their quarter-final berth and relegate one of the pre-tournament favourites to an embarrassing early exit.
Steyn reveals he is something of an accidental Italian and had been set to join French club Perpignan when he left South African shores, but following their relegation from the Top 14 had to change his plans.
“I never thought it (playing for Italy) would happen, it was never in my plans. I was actually on my way to France but then a few things happened, and I ended up in Italy. But I am very happy and I wouldn’t change anything,” he said.
Given the significance of Friday’s match, there will no doubt be some split family loyalties, but Steyn says those immediately close to him are firmly behind an Italy win.
“My parents just support me, my family as well. Obviously if something would happen (an Italy win) it would be bad for them. But I feel Italian so obviously my heart is 100 percent behind the team.
“My parents are here and it is the first time they are seeing me play live (for Italy),” Steyn said.
Despite being able to converse in Afrikaans, Steyn does not believe he will derive any advantage from being able to hear the Bok calls on the pitch.
“I’ll try and catch something, but each team has a system and for me to understand their system will be really difficult,” he said.
“We all know what South Africa are about, they are a physical team, they like kicking and they don’t mess around in their own half. I need to make sure I bring that same physicality.”
Steyn came off the bench in Italy’s historic 20-18 win over the Boks in 2016 and started as South Africa romped to a 35-6 victory the following year.
He believes there are lessons to take from the win three years ago.
“In that game we focused on our own performance, not the Springboks. It was about each player being in the right place at the right time and focusing on your job 100 percent,” he said.
“It is about who is going to be more aggressive, who will go guns blazing and who will keep their discipline.
“I think discipline will be crucial for both teams and whoever lacks it will hand the advantage to the other side.”
(Reporting By Nick Said; editing by Darren Schuettler)