Jake White has said this of Ruan Pienaar: “His unique versatility means he can play at international level in every position in the backline, but I have always felt that his natural game was strongest in every position other than scrumhalf.”
White is not alone in believing that Pienaar’s smooth running game is restricted at scrumhalf, where the basic responsibility is to feed the backline from a standing position. Because it is when Pienaar runs on to the ball, as is the case when he is occasionally at flyhalf, that his natural talent is showcased, writes Mike Greenaway on www.iol.co.za.
Where most others often seem hurried or pressured at 10, Pienaar has that easy-going style of a Stephen Larkham, and the same natural feel to his passing as the great Wallaby that sees his skip-passes out wide, effortlessly finding their mark.
Pienaar is the spitting image of another Free Stater, Henry Honiball, who often used to deflect praise from himself by using the expression, “in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king”, to suggest that he was the Springbok flyhalf because of a shortage of 10s at the time. None of that was true.
But Henry’s expression has some validity in South Africa in 2008, and this is why Dick Muir’s decision to use Pienaar at flyhalf following the injury to Frederic Michalak could pay off handsomely for Pienaar, the Sharks and the Springboks.
Peter de Villiers has few options in the position. There has been nothing of Springbok merit at the Bulls, Lions, Cheetahs and Sharks this season (discounting Michalak), leaving Peter Grant the only option playing in the country. We have not forgotten Andre Pretorius but, given that he is perpetually injured, he cannot be included in any coach’s plans.
The best flyhalf option for De Villiers is Butch James, who at Bath is continuing the excellent form he showed at the Rugby World Cup in France.
To my mind, James was the Boks’ player of the World Cup. He went into the showpiece with many having reservations about his knees, not to mention his capabilities, but he confounded the sceptics with consistently excellent performances.
De Villiers would be mad not to pick Butch this year and next year, too, which would probably bring him towards the end of his career, although with Butch you never know.
The point is that he probably will not be around for the 2011 Rugby World Cup in New Zealand. So who does that leave us with? Grant, who is certainly not a bad option, but also Ruan Pienaar if he continues at 10 for the Sharks – and the indications from the Sharks camp are that if he steps up over the next month, he can consider the shift permanent.
It is a positive opportunity for Pienaar and the Springboks. There are many good scrumhalves, but few accomplished flyhalves.
Grant is promising but at this stage limited. He has the very good gain-line game of Honiball, but not yet the wide game that Honiball was equally good at, nor the polished tactical kicking game.
Pienaar, though, has all of those strings to his flyhalf bow, but not Grant’s experience in the position, and Grant is the better defender.
Both are young men who will improve a great deal in the build-up to the next World Cup, and they both could learn a great deal in the Springbok camp if they were mentored by Butch over the next few years.
The No 10 shirt on the back of Pienaar for Saturday’s game against the Cheetahs is hugely exciting for the Sharks and for the Springboks.
Pienaar did very well last week against the Crusaders in the worst conditions imaginable. Imagine what he could against the Cheetahs on a perfect winter’s day in Durban.Tweet