Ruan Pienaar’s rugby pedigree and consistency in performance is such that I’d have no reservation calling on him in the case of a Springboks World Cup halfback injury crisis, writes Mark Keohane.
Two years ago, I wrote that I’d pick Morne Steyn for the Springboks against the British & Irish Lions. My argument was that he could provide the ultimate insurance policy off the bench. I was mocked and asked if I wanted to bring back the late Danie Craven as well.
No one was mocking me on the night Steyn kicked the Springboks to a series win against the Lions in the series decider at Cape Town’s DHL Stadium. Steyn, who won the 2009 series with the game’s last kick, did exactly the same in 2022.
Steyn officially retired a fortnight ago, saying goodbye to the Bulls, but he was another who I would have selected ahead of Chris Smith and John Goosen for the Bulls. Steyn was effectively the third choice No 10 for most of the season but the Bulls may have won a few more matches had they embraced Steyn’s longevity and performance more and not dismissed his selection on the basis of age.
If good enough is old enough, when making the case of a 19 year-old, then good enough is young enough for the 39 year-old Pienaar, who in March next year will be 40. Pienaar, who scored 22 points in the Cheetahs 39-10 Currie Cup semi-final win against the Bulls last Saturday, has extended his playing contract by another season, and he certainly would not be lost in a Springboks jersey.
I am not saying pick him for the Springboks right now ahead of the incumbents, but if ever a player could answer an SOS close to the World Cup or during the World Cup, it would be this magnificent rugby player.
Pienaar, of Grey College stock and the son of Springbok fullback Gysie (Pienaar) was born into rugby. It has always been in his family and it has always been in his genes.
The veteran has mostly played at No 9, but is comfortable at No 10 and has also played Test rugby at No 15 and on the wing for South Africa, with the last of his 88 Tests coming at the 2015 World Cup bronze play-off match.
He signed for Ulster in Belfast in 2010 and was sensational in the opening season. He would maintain that form and consistency throughout his time in Ireland. He played 141 matches for Ulster and would still be there but for an Irish Rugby Union ruling that limits a foreign recruit to one player per position, across all positions. When Leinster signed James Gibson-Park from New Zealand, as part of a national project, Pienaar had to look elsewhere. He opted for two seasons at Montpellier before returning home to Bloemfontein and the Cheetahs, the city of his birth and schooling.
He said his career had come full circle and that the Cheetahs schoolboy representative would finally get to wear the senior jersey. Pienaar, on leaving school, had been contracted the Sharks and there was no surprise when the Cheetahs loaned him to the Sharks a season ago during a time of inactivity for the Cheetahs.
Pienaar’s consistency is matched by his loyalty to those teams he has represented in totally over 400 professional matches and scoring more than 2000 points.
It is incredible to think that he made his Currie Cup debut in 2004 and in 2024 he will still be playing in the Currie Cup.
He offers the Cheetahs everything, as a player and mentor to younger players, and he would add as much value to the Springboks in moment of absolute emergency.