Ruan banging on No 9 door
Cape Town – For how much longer should Ruan Pienaar be
curtailed to the role of Springbok “supersub”?
It is a question likely to be weighing as much on the mind
of coach Heyneke Meyer and his lieutenants as it doubtless is already for
plenty of observers.
The Ulster-based Pienaar, a former Sharks favourite, has
been a patient but also highly effective substitute in all Bok Tests thus far
Scrumhalf tends to be a position occupied by a livewire
athlete, one often less likely than others to see the incumbent hauled off well
before the end of matches if things are going suitably well for him.
Perhaps tellingly, however, Pienaar has been introduced with
at least 20 minutes to go – and occasionally a fair bit more – in all four
matches, including the trio against England.
The trick was duly repeated in the latest instance on
Saturday, when Pienaar got another “last quarter” in the moderately satisfying
triumph over Argentina in the Castle Rugby Championship, at the usual expense
of first-choice Francois Hougaard.
The last-named player did get to see out the fixture at
wing, a position where he has often been at his most incisive for his country
before – and arguably was so again.
Hougaard is a naturally slippery, electric runner and there
is a mounting case for saying he demonstrates it best when there is a bit more
space available in raids from the back of the park.
Indeed, with the mercurial, in-form JP Pietersen inconveniently
absent for the first two-thirds or so of this tournament, perhaps Hougaard is
as equipped as anybody to show some alternative X-factor from out wide in
Consideration of Hougaard for a wing berth, in the immediate
follow-up game against the Pumas in Mendoza on Saturday, could lead to a
win-win situation for both current rival No 9s, opening up a rather obvious gap
for Pienaar to try to raise the bar for the Boks as starting scrumhalf.
Frankly, Hougaard has under-delivered there this year, even
if his broad talent and supreme tenacity as a rugby player is hardly in doubt.
He struggles to genuinely take command of games at scrumhalf
in the manner his legendary Bulls predecessor Fourie du Preez once did, with
his tactical kicking aspect remaining unremarkable and his passing sometimes
Pienaar, who has been getting such rave reviews in Ireland
and wider European competition since his switch to northern climes, just seems
so much more “natural” in the slot of late.
Isn’t that an important consideration in a team currently,
let’s face it, not massively renowned for cutting-edge backline play?
He is in the prime of his pro rugby life, at the age of 28
and with 55 international caps to his name, only bearing out his wisdom.
Hougaard is four years his junior and still has time on his
side to iron out certain rough edges to his No 9 game -- unless his admirably
versatile credentials do yet lead to his more regular stationing at wing.
Right now, he is not quite the Full Monty at Test scrumhalf.
Ruan Pienaar warrants
an opportunity to wear a certain, single-figure number on his back for a
change, doesn’t he?
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