The Springbok coaching team’s stated intention to try Ruan Pienaar at flyhalf may be an expression of supreme confidence in the player’s ability, but it can’t be doing wonders for his self- belief.
In terms of outrageous talent, Pienaar is every bit as gifted as the other player who gets shunted around the Bok backline, Francois Steyn.
But the difference between the two is that he doesn’t have Steyn’s bullet-proof confidence.
Simnikiwe Xabanisa writes for the Times Online that the decision to have him run the show (at flyhalf) against Argentina on Saturday seems to be aimed at making him realise how important he is to the Bok cause, but it could well deepen his self-doubt.
After being the second-best scrumhalf in the world last year (behind teammate Fourie du Preez), Pienaar has yet to recover from losing his place to Rory Kockott at the Sharks, and Ricky Januarie in the Bok team.
Asking him to solve the problem created by Butch James’s seeming confidence crisis at flyhalf is only compounding his insecurity.
“I’m probably just as confused as everybody else,” said Pienaar in Pretoria this week. “I’m not sure where the coaches see me playing at the moment — some see me as a 10, some see me as a nine.
“I think it’s best to settle somewhere and decide for myself where I see my future and just play there.”
A significant part of the problem is that despite possessing the skills needed to succeed at flyhalf, Pienaar is reluctant to play there.
“I’m convinced I’m a better nine than a 10 because I’ve spent most of my life playing there. That’s where I’ve got confidence in myself.
“I haven’t played a full game at nine since last year’s Tri- Nations (against New Zealand in Durban) and that’s been frustrating. It’s been a difficult year for me, hopefully I can get a chance there again.”
Pienaar said his preference for scrumhalf had more to do with familiarity than it did with major changes from a technical perspective.
“Other than I’ve played there all my life, it’s the involvement with the forwards and all the decision-making,” he said. “I don’t think there’s too much difference between nine and 10, I’m just more comfortable at nine because I feel that’s where I’ve built a healthy reputation.”
He said the chopping and changing — which has seen him play fullback and wing as well for the Boks — has not only confused him, but it has eaten away at his confidence.
“After being injured I didn’t play so well and Rory (Kockott) came into the side and took his chance,” he said, “Then I had to slot in at 10 under pretty difficult circumstances in the Super 14. We still made the semifinals but my confidence hasn’t been as high as it has been.
“It is something I hope to regain by playing and playing well again. But I’m still positive because any rugby player goes through rough patches.”
A sign of the loss of confidence Pienaar has suffered is that his greatest contribution to the Bok season so far was a charge-down of Dan Carter’s attempted drop goal, which would have won the Dunedin Test.
In the past, he could always be relied on to conjure up magic on the counter-attack. It also doesn’t help that Du Preez is back from a hand injury and seems to have leap-frogged him onto the bench as Januarie’s deputy.
“It doesn’t get easier.” laughed Pienaar. “We have a lot of talent. Fourie was probably the best scrumhalf in the world last year. But I think healthy competition is not a bad thing for players, and that’s what we have with the Boks this year.”
Pienaar said being shuffled around in the Bok backline has resulted in discussions between himself and Steyn.
“We’re roommates and we speak about it often. To be honest it is pretty frustrating. That’s probably one of the reasons I didn’t have one of the best Super 14s. I think you need to play in one position so you can build your confidence and be sharp, it’s been pretty difficult for Frans and me.”
Steyn’s water-off-a-duck’s- back attitude was once shown in his response when asked the same question. He said playing in a lot of positions was like any day job, sometimes you did admin work and sometimes you attended a lot of meetings.
But Pienaar needs more assurance. “I need to sit down with the coaches here and at the Sharks to find out where they see me play.”Tweet