The Glasgow Warriors player lost a year of his career to a combination of lockdown and a particularly nasty injury in which his hamstring was torn clean off the bone.
The road to recovery has been long and rocky and involved a recurrence of the injury three weeks before he was due to return to action.
The comeback eventually came in straitened circumstances in Italy last month as the Warriors slumped to an ignominious 46-19 defeat at the hands of Benetton.
It was a desperately disappointing result for Glasgow but at least Steyn came through unscathed and the centre-cum-wing is now champing at the bit to be involved in Friday night’s inter-city derby against Edinburgh at Scotstoun.
“The Rainbow Cup is the best tournament in the world if you ask me!” he said with a chuckle.
“Every time there were reports coming out that the South African teams weren’t coming I thought it was going to be canned, and I was thinking ‘please, please do not let that happen’.”
Fortunately for Steyn, the competition is going ahead, even though the South African sides are no longer coming to Europe and will instead stay at home and play each other.
The Pro14 clubs will do likewise, meaning there are now two tournaments with little to spice them up. Not that Steyn minds.
“It’s come at a good time. It’s the end of a long season and I feel I’ve got an important role to play. I’ve got a lot of fresh, bundled up energy that needs to be spent.”
Steyn hopes to use the games to catch the eye of the Scotland selectors ahead of the summer tour to Romania and Georgia. Having made his international debut as a replacement against France in the 2020 Six Nations, he saw his chances of a second cap thwarted when the game against Wales was called off just before lockdown.
“I can still remember being on the bus on the way to the captain’s run in Cardiff for that game that for some reason we thought was still going to go ahead. It was gutting that it didn’t. It was frustrating.”
The brief taste of international rugby has whet his appetite and he wants some more.
“I would absolutely love to be on the summer tour,” he said. “I’m very aware of the circumstances I’m in and I think it’s just really important for me to put my head down in these next few games and play as well as I can and help Glasgow play as well as they can and see what comes off the back of that.”
Steyn first tore his hamstring at the beginning of August, two weeks before Glasgow were due to play Edinburgh in the first game back.
“I was sprinting at full speed in training and the hammy just went, off the bone,” he explained. “I went down and had the surgery. That was supposed to put me back ahead of the first European window in the beginning of December. That would have been 16 weeks, and I got to 13 weeks and I was out doing a rehab run, turned the corner and it just went again. I could feel it pop.
“The reasons for it happening we genuinely don’t know. I was running at about 57 per cent when it went again. The thinking there is that it was going to go at some stage again. I had to take that on the chin. Because of that it turned from 16 weeks to 24 weeks.
“The mental side of it was tougher. Especially at the beginning because to start with they kept the injured boys separate from the main squad to try and really keep the bubble a bubble. I found that really tough. One of the big reasons I do this is because I get the chance to come to work with 50 of my mates and be out there on the pitch. That was taken away very quickly.
“Then again the flip side is I was still luckier than most. It still meant I could come in every day, use the gym and see some of the boys in between sessions. As a whole on a global scale of what people went through during the pandemic I was still very, very lucky, much luckier than most people.”
The long-awaited return to action in Treviso was disappointing in terms of the result but given that it was his first outing since the Scotland match against France 13 months previously Steyn was pleased to come through unscathed.
“To be honest the toughest part of it was my lungs, getting acclimatised. It felt like I hadn’t played a game in a year. It felt like I was running around with a trailer of lead behind me,” he said.
“One of the positives of that Treviso game is that I got to tick off a lot of those mental ‘what if’ kind of things. I’d spent five months wondering if I can sprint again. Can I take contact? Will it all be the same? So from that point of view it was great to get out and put that behind me and get over that hurdle. Hopefully I can kick on.”