Prime time for Pienaar

RYAN VREDE writes Ruan Pienaar is under immense pressure to take his chance at building a Test career as a starting scrumhalf. Pressure, however, has always been his nemesis.

Having been utilised in every backline position except in midfield under Jake White and Peter de Villiers, Ruan Pienaar can finally see a clear path ahead in the position he has always believed he is best suited to at Test level.

Heyneke Meyer’s hand has been forced on Francois Hougaard. He had hoped his tactical kicking game would improve, which it hasn’t. Pienaar will now get an extended run in the side, presenting him with an opportunity he never had when Fourie du Preez was playing. How he responds will be decisive to his Test future.

Pienaar shifted into national consciousness with a string of excellent performances in the 2007 Super Rugby tournament for the Sharks – exhibiting every technical skill you could ask for in a scrumhalf. Widespread predictions of a notable Test career followed. However, what should have been a time of tutelage under Du Preez became a nightmare five-year period in which the incompetent Ricky Januarie acted as Du Preez’s deputy most of the time, while Pienaar would also be subjected to De Villiers’ fanciful flyhalf experiment.

It was a horrible way to treat a national treasure.

Pienaar has thrived at scrumhalf at Ulster – establishing himself as one of the pre-eminent nines in Europe – and has helped place the Irish giants among the continent’s elite with a clutch of commanding performances. Tellingly, and here is the crux, many of those performances have come in their most high pressure matches.

I recall probing former Springbok captain John Smit on Pienaar in 2009. He was liberal in his praise of his technical skills, but tried, unconvincingly, to soften his concerns around his temperament under pressure. This would be a constant theme for Pienaar’s coaches and team-mates (most spoke off the record) in the years that followed.

Herein lies Pienaar’s primary challenge – mastering his mind.

We can draw confidence that his early mental frailty was largely due to diabolical man management from his coaches. Now he is in an environment where his head coach backs him and has no plans to deploy him in any position other than scrumhalf. It is a pivotal position in the context of the Springboks’ game plan. Here’s hoping Pienaar’s fractured confidence has healed and he builds the Test career he has always had the potential to.

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