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Frans Steyn quits Boks but not retiring, says SARU, days before 1st Wales test

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DURBAN, South Africa - Frans Steyn's sudden and unexplained withdrawal from the Springboks days out from their first test of the year contributed to what coach Heyneke Meyer has called his 10 toughest days in the job.

Steyn, called a special player with the X-factor just last week by Meyer, was released from the squad late Tuesday at his request.

Valued for his versatility, Steyn played in the centres in South Africa's 47-13 win over a World XV at Newlands on Saturday, a non-cap match but his first appearance in a Springboks jersey since 2012.

He told the South African Rugby Union he was unavailable for the tests this month against Wales and Scotland, but would be available for the Sharks when Super Rugby resumes next month.

"The environment in the Springbok squad is fantastic and I would like to state categorically that my relationship with Heyneke Meyer, the rest of the management, and my teammates is very good," Steyn said in a statement released by SARU.

Union chief executive Jurie Roux said it was happy to grant the request by Steyn, who has 53 caps since his debut in 2006, plus a 2007 World Cup winners' medal.

"He has asked for some time to consider his international playing future and we must respect that," Roux said. "Let me make it clear that he has not retired from international rugby, but he has requested a break from it."

SARU also instructed the Springbok management not to speculate on the 27-year-old Steyn's decision or return, and Meyer held back on Wednesday at the team announcement, but his frustration was evident.

"It has been the toughest 10 days in the job for me so far," he said. "We have lost five quality centres."

He confirmed he had "a great relationship" with Steyn and had "massive respect" for him, but acknowledged his quitting was disruptive.

Meyer had already dealt with injuries to captain Jean de Villiers, Jaque Fourie, and Damian de Allende, and a chest infection to Juan de Jongh.

Jan Serfontein, capped nine times, was given the No. 12 jersey for his first test start against Wales on Saturday, and will partner JP Pietersen, the veteran winger who will start his first test in midfield.

There were six changes in all from the team which beat the World XV, including a debut for winger Cornal Hendricks, and a bench spot for Cheetahs teammate and uncapped lock Lood de Jager. Fourie du Preez returns at scrumhalf and prop Gurthro Steenkamp swaps with Tendai Mtawarira to play his 50th test.

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South Africa: Willie le Roux, Cornal Hendricks, JP Pietersen, Jan Serfontein, Bryan Habana, Morne Steyn, Fourie du Preez; Duane Vermeulen, Willem Alberts, Francois Louw, Victor Matfield (captain), Bakkies Botha, Jannie du Plessis, Bismarck du Plessis, Gurthro Steenkamp. Reserves: Schalk Brits, Tendai Mtawarira, Coenie Oosthuizen, Lood de Jager, Schalk Burger, Ruan Pienaar, Johan Goosen, Lwazi Mvovo.

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