While I can in no way endorse the frankly suicidal decision to embark on a three-match tour of the northern hemisphere without a proper tighthead, I must say, I think the decision to pick Ruan Pienaar as the only flyhalf is a master-stroke on de Villiers’ part.
Pienaar has emerged as the form scrumhalf in the country during the latter stages of the Currie Cup and this would definitely seem to vindicate his insistence on being considered primarily as a number 9. He completely overshadowed Fourie du Preez in the final yesterday and offers oodles more all-round than Ricky Januarie does. That said, he remains only one of three incredibly talented scrumhalves, all of whom have a legitimate claim to the Bok number 9 jersey.
Assuming that Earl Rose’s inclusion is nothing more than a statistical error, the Boks really do find themselves without any decent options at flyhalf. Morne Steyn disappears in tight games, Peter Grant’s decision making is just not good enough and Butch James is really struggling to assert himself, possibly as a result of too much rugby. Pienaar showed in half an hour against the Aussies just how good he can be at pivot and it would appear that all that is standing between the maverick player and his destiny seems to be his own reluctance to accept the inevitable.
What I think de Villiers has done so well is to essentially force Pienaar to embrace the Bok 10 jersey by giving it to him unconditionally. Pienaar is far too much of an all-round good guy to turn down such a mission, seeing as he’s essentially been told “boet, we NEED you to be our first-choice flyhalf. There is nobody else. We’re giving you the jersey and it is yours to keep. Do you want it?” All any player really wants is the guarantee of (reasonably) regular game time and Ruan now, for the first time in his Bok career, has that in spades.
Ruan Pienaar now has his Bok destiny firmly in his own hands. He has three tests in which to make a proper fist of being the first-choice flyhalf. If he succeeds, he’ll be set for the next few seasons. If it doesn’t come off (and I don’t see why it shouldn’t) it will be a huge step backwards, both for him personally and the natinal team (and coach).
My hope is that, once Ruan Pienaar returns, triumphant and settled as an international flyhalf, from this tour, he may then decide that there’s another number 10 jersey that he’d like to see his name on. For the Sharks, that would really plug a worrying gap in the backline just in time for the 2009 Super 14. One can dream, I suppose?
Then again, how anyone can be expected to make a name for themselves behind a pack without a proper tighthead is another story…Tweet