A vintage performance from 21 year old Ruan Pienaar inspired the Sharks to a 30-21 win over the Chiefs in their Vodacom Super 14 opener in Durbs.
Pienaar and Jean de Villiers are not names accustomed to occupying the same sentence, but after a sparkling 80 minutes the comparison emerges with vigour. The debate over positional preference and suitability has seen both generate reams of newspaper copy, but – like De Villiers – Pienaar on the field has provided all the answers.
He wants to wear 9, and not 10, and it is easy to see why. His score from 60m out was reminiscent of his defining effort against the Brumbies last year, and provided a similar catalyst. This time 15 minutes were on the board, and King’s Park forgot the pains of the Currie Cup in the 20 seconds it took for him to snipe from the base of a scrum, take a miniscule gap, and beat both Mils Muliaina and Sosene Anesi for the ultimate scrumhalf try. The score was critical as it brought the scores level at 7-7 after an early Sione Lauaki battering, and was remarkable for the calmness of its execution.
Great players have the ability to slow the frenetic chaos around them to a walk, as further exhibited by De Villiers throughout 2005. Whilst it may be premature to attach descriptives such as ‘great’ to Pienaar, the effortless ease with which he scored a class try does suggest the future ahead is more special than solid. The way he subsequently took pressure off Percy Montgomery at 10 with pinpoint box kicking was a further testament to his composure and skill.
It was his clever loop round from first phase – and critical straightening – after 21 minutes that created the space for Gcobani Bobo to get within a metre, and give Montgomery the opportunity to show why his next career move should be to the Seattle Seahawks in the NFL as he leaped over the ruck to score. It was 14 points in six minutes, and provided the ammo the home side needed to free themselves from the shackles of early season trepidation.
A chargedown from skipper AJ Venter on halftime, and resultant second score by Monty, had Dick Muir punching the air, Brian van Zyl raising his glass and the carnival atmosphere return to Durban for the first time in a while. The 24-10 lead was reflective of an opening 40 in which the Sharks’ opportunism swamped a side renowned for that quality.
Three tries up and with a bonus point beckoning, the Sharks blighted the night with a scrappy second half in which Monty’s boot kept the visitors out of range. Misfiring halfbacks Byron Kelleher and Stephen Donald managed to put their star-studded line away once in the 49th minute, but otherwise both produced displays dominated by indecision and sluggishness.
Like the Stormers earlier today, the Sharks’ inability to finish off their opponents can be attributed to pre-season predictions of doom. Despite what either coach has said, relegation and not semi-final contention is still forefront in their minds, and ensuring the victory takes precedence over the gamble for bonus points.
Ultimately, Dick Muir can reflect on a performance high on passion but low on clinical execution. Venter’s presence in the pack is immeasurable, and his mongrel allied with Johan Ackerman’s bulk meant the forwards denied their opponent’s dangerous backline sufficient ball to inflict mortal damage.
With the Cheetahs arriving next weekend, the potential for two wins from two is more realistic than farcical. Muir will know there is work to be done, but four points in the bag is reflective of a performance that was deserving of victory.
Sharks – Tries: Ruan Pienaar, Percy Montgomery (2). Conversions: Montgomery (3). Penalties: Montgomery (3).
Chiefs – Tries: Sione Lauaki, Sosene Anesi. Conversion: Stephen Donald. Penalties Donald (3)