The emergence of Morne Steyn as the Boks’ first-choice flyhalf leaves Ruan Pienaar in a career quandary.
Peter de Villiers admitted on Monday that incumbents at the start of the season would struggle to get back into the starting line-up due to the arrival of others who have risen to prominence. There is no doubt Steyn should start at flyhalf again at Newlands, as his record-breaking performance at King’s Park deserves to be rewarded, but more importantly, his style is the perfect dovetail fit for the Boks’ current game-plan.
De Villiers’s preference for Steyn is a U-turn from his sentiments before the Lions’ series, where Steyn wasn’t originally in his plans and was only included in the greater squad due to the nature of the Bulls’ Super 14 final victory.
Now Pienaar, originally a scrumhalf and the position he prefers, will be relegated to a bench role for the foreseeable future due to his goal-kicking fallibility. Pienaar was solid in his general game at pivot in the 40 minutes on the pitch in Bloemfontein, but 11 points missed was unforgivable and means it is unlikely he will be handed the role as first-choice kicker in Tests.
What then does the international future hold for Pienaar? It was never his decision to move to flyhalf, rather coach De Villiers’s insistence that Pienaar follow that route. After starting the Currie Cup final at scrumhalf, later that evening De Villiers revealed Pienaar as the Boks’ first-choice flyhalf for the year-end tour.
After mixed success in November, Sharks coach John Plumtree was asked to utilise Pienaar at No 10 in the Super 14. Although Juan Martin Hernandez is only a new acquisition to the Sharks, it would seem an internationally recognised No 10 such as himself would become the Sharks’ preferred pivot option for the next year.
Pienaar’s last outing at No 9 was during the final Lions’ Test when he replaced the injured Fourie du Preez, but he looked rusty in the position, although it was difficult with his heavies being dominated. There is also no space in the starting team as Du Preez is the world’s best scrumhalf, but this could be the position that Pienaar opts to fight for.
Pienaar is a confident player, of that there is no doubt. But since his Bok debut in 2006, he has never held regular ownership on one jersey. He is regarded by some, such as Eddie Jones, as the Boks’ version of Stephen Larkham, but without rectifying his goal-kicking inconsistencies, or the Boks finding an alternative kicking option with Pienaar in the side, he will struggle to find a spot in the starting XV.
De Villiers explained his omission from the Bok 22 for Durban as a case of Pienaar being ‘managed’. Pienaar is a game-breaker and his versatility is a boon for the Boks’ bench, while he’s still clearly part of De Villiers’s plans. However, a clear definition of what his role is, is vital in seeing him reach his true potential in future.
By Grant Ball, in Cape Town