Johannesburg - Springbok scrumhalf Ruan Pienaar has taken his chances in the Green-and-Gold with both hands and will hope to stake a claim for the No 9 jersey for an extended period.
Ruan Pienaar (Gallo Images)
In his early career, Pienaar was predominantly seen as a utility-back but a move to Irish club Ulster saw him receiving regular starts at scrumhalf, his favourite position. Of his 59 Test matches he has played 33 at scrumhalf, 13 at flyhalf, 10 at fullback and three on the wing.
Pienaar has been one of the form South African players plying their trade in the Northern Hemisphere which earned him a call-up by new Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer.
The 28-year-old has had three consecutive starts at scrumhalf in the new-look Bok team and is looking increasingly comfortable in the position.
"I’ve competed against some good nine’s in South Africa in the past and it is great for me to get an opportunity now," Pienaar said on Wednesday.
"I’ve really enjoyed the three Tests that I started now and hopefully I can continue in that vein and try to play as well as possible and be in contention for that jersey for the next couple of years if possible." With the No 9 jersey being the property of Fourie du Preez over the past eight years, it was nearly impossible for any other player to win a start for the Boks in that position.
Bulls scrumhalf Francois Hougaard initially had the inside track to claiming the position.
His ability to cut the opposition’s defences when in space, however, saw him shifting to the wing after South Africa’s 16-16 draw with Argentina in Mendoza.
Pienaar has since won favour in that position with his goal-kicking being an important addition to his other skills.
The 28-year-old Pienaar was given the kicking duties in South Africa’s 31-8 victory over Australia after flyhalf Johan Goosen missed with two of his attempts early in the match.
While he only managed to slot over three of his seven attempts at goal, Pienaar still relished the goal-kicking responsibilities.
"I take the responsibility and it is something I enjoy, obviously it didn’t go as well as I’d liked to on Saturday," he said.
"But I haven’t kicked in that pressure situation since my season ended back at Ulster in the Heineken Cup.
"So I need to get back in again and take the responsibility and hopefully do it well as possible.
"I’ve had a good season with the kicking boot over in the Northern Hemisphere and I would like to continue in that way but I still need to train hard and tweak a couple of things here and there."
Pienaar said the Springboks needed to be more accurate on Saturday if they wanted to beat New Zealand.
"We need to take our opportunities, it was something we lacked in New Zealand where we created two or three opportunities and didn’t finish it," Pienaar said.
"In Test match rugby you only get two or three opportunities, especially against the All Blacks, so it is about being accurate, being patient and playing the right area.
"The games on tour, I thought we created a lot of opportunities that could have put us in a winning situation but we made one or two errors and that probably cost us the game in the end."
The clash against the All Blacks at the FNB Stadium in Soweto starts at 17:00 on Saturday.
15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Bryan Habana, 13 Jean de Villiers (captain), 12 Jaco Taute, 11 Francois Hougaard, 10 Johan Goosen, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Willem Alberts, 6 Francois Louw, 5 Andries Bekker, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Adriaan Strauss, 1 Beast Mtawarira
Substitutes: 16 Tiaan Liebenberg, 17 Coenie Oosthuizen, 18 Flip van der Merwe, 19 Marcell Coetzee, 20 Elton Jantjies, 21 Juan de Jongh, 22 Patrick Lambie
15 Israel Dagg, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Hosea Gear, 10 Dan Carter, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Richie McCaw (captain), 6 Liam Messam, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Andrew Hore, 1 Tony Woodcock
Substitutes: 16 Keven Mealamu, 17 Ben Franks, 18 Luke Romano, 19 Adam Thomson, 20 Piri Weepu, 21 Aaron Cruden, 22 Tamati Ellison