One of our regular readers, jarsonx, pointed out an interesting article that appeared on the Beeld website two days ago. It’s in Afrikaans, so for those of you not comfortable in that language, I’ll summarise it here and provide my rebuttal.
The gist of what the (unfortunately uncredited) author has to say is that the elevation of Morné Steyn to the Bok starting fifteen, coupled with the arrival of Juan Martin Hernández (what a mouthful – he needs a catchy nickname!) signal the end of Ruan Pienaar’s aspirations of playing flyhalf and that he will need to revert to scrumhalf to stand any chance of playing first-team rugby for the Sharks. John Plumtree has been quoted as saying he now has “options” in terms of selection, which the author has taken to mean that Pienaar will play scrumhalf with the Argentinean at pivot. He reckons that the rumoured signing of Louis Ludick will put paid to any possibility of Hernández being used at fullback.
Now, I believe that this is purely speculative and completely incorrect on a number of points. The first being the insinuation that Pienaar has now dropped behind Steyn in the Bok pecking order. He hasn’t. He has simply lost his place due to an injury picked up in Bloemfontein, which the coaching staff clearly feel has not healed sufficiently to allow him to play in Durban. Were it a case of Pienaar being fit, yet not deemed good enough to start, he would be on the bench, not out of the 22 entirely. As I’ve mentioned numerous times before, Peter de Villiers is loyal to a fault and has stated in the past that Pienaar is his first-choice flyhalf for the Springboks. The moment he returns to fitness, Pienaar will be back in that number 10 jersey for the Springboks, mark my words.
Next, when you look at the Sharks, I think it’s pretty patently obvious to everybody who watched the shambles that was the latter part of our 2009 campaign that you need to have at least two top quality flyhalves in your squad. We identified right at the start of the season that Pienaar was the one player in the squad for whom there was not adequate backup and that a successful Sharks campaign would hinge on his availability. Pienaar was injured, we were forced to play Fran Steyn (our first-choice 12) at flyhalf and the wheels came off. Not only did we have an ineffective pivot, we were forced to blood a raw youngster outside him in Riaan Swanepoel. One could argue that the experiment did far more for Swannie’s credentials than it did for Fransie’s, but I digress.
So, I see Hernández coming in as a straight replacement for Steyn – the ultimate utility player who can cover flyhalf, inside centre and fullback with ease, just like Steyn. Or rather, better than Steyn. The Sharks have plentiful depth at scrumhalf with the petulant Rory Kockott, the precocious Ross Cronjé and the underrated Charl McLeod all itching for game time. With Pienaar and Hernández available at flyhalf, together with Monty Dumond, Guy Cronjé and even Len Olivier in reserve, we now have enough depth at pivot to withstand a serious injury, to Pienaar or anyone else.
The Ludick signing is a rumour at this stage. It’s one that’s been mentioned in enough places that their might be some truth to it, but the fact is, until it is formerly announced by the Union, we’d be foolish to take it for granted. Fact is, though, that Stefan Terblanche is unlikely to make it through another Super 14 and unless we sign a fullback, we’re going to be caught out. The Argentinian may well prove a good option at fullback, but it would be great to have Ludick in reserve as well. The latter can even be used at wing, perhaps as a replacement for the ageing Odwa Ndungane.
Plumtree is spot on when he talks about having options. It was a lack of options at flyhalf that nailed us this year, so it’s good to see that the coaches have learned from their mistakes. I don’t for an instant believe that any of this puts Ruan Pienaar’s future at flyhalf in doubt. In fact, I’m incredibly keen to watch him, as well as Cronjé and the other youngsters, become better players as they learn from the Wizard himself. I’ve read that Hernández is going to play a specialist coaching role at the Academy while he’s in Durban as well, which can only bode well for the next generation of flyhalf talent coming through the ranks.Tweet