Johannesburg - With Fourie du Preez out of this year’s Rugby Championship, the time has come for Ruan Pienaar to step up.
Pienaar is almost certain to get the nod ahead of Cobus Reinach and Francois Hougaard for the big games in this year’s competition and how well he handles the pressure will determine how well the Boks do in this year’s competition, reports the supersport.com website.
While there may be some scope for movement in next weekend’s opener against Argentina, coach Heyneke Meyer will want his team to settle as quickly as possible to create the momentum they need before they head to Perth and Wellington for the big games against the Wallabies and All Blacks.
And it goes further than that. The selection of the halfback pairing is a delicate one and one which needs to fire if the Boks are to have any chance in this year’s competition.
It would make sense to go into the Argentina game with Handre Pollard still at 10 given his impressive debut against Scotland in Port Elizabeth, but there is a real debate whether he should be thrown to the wolves against the bigger two teams in the tournament or whether to go with the tried and tested pedigree of Morne Steyn.
It would be an easy decision if Du Preez was on his inside, and the idea of playing Pollard between Jean de Villiers and Du Preez makes much sense from a coaching point of view.
The problem again would return to who is the scrumhalf. The enigma of Ruan Pienaar will be a massive point when the selection meeting comes up.
After all, Pienaar is genius when he turns out for Ulster. Some commentators in the United Kingdom – some of them very respected scribes – have called him the best “import” that any European club has had.
Pienaar possesses all the skills and makes the big decisions for his Irish club, but has struggled to replicate that when it comes to the Springboks.
Perhaps part of that fault has been his versatility – and as Pat Lambie will attest – this can be a drawback to form when playing for the Boks.
Pienaar has played virtually every position in the backline, but the chance to go through the entire Castle Lager Rugby Championship as the starting scrumhalf could well be the push he needs to come into his own at this level.
The other possibilities are tough ones. Francois Hougaard struggles with the basic service to his flyhalf and has been patchy all season, but when he gets it right, he can be sensational.
The lapse in form at times has only compounded the argument that he is more dangerous in space, and when he is on the wing.
Cobus Reinach’s elevation to the national set-up is well-deserved. The talented No 9 has been in prodigious form behind a Sharks pack that hasn’t taken a backward step much this season.
His break around the fringes and ability to change the complexion of the game in a snap is his asset, but it is also something that hampers him when his team is under pressure.
Of the three Pienaar certainly has the best kicking game, and while some may bemoan the tactic in test rugby, it is certainly a very necessary part of any team’s arsenal.
So the choice is likely to be Pienaar – perhaps not for Loftus if there is a sense of adventure – but almost certainly for the Australasian leg of the trip.
The Ulster find has certainly held his own in the Bok set-up and been an integral part of the team under a number of Bok coaches.
But it is time that he comes into his own, and displays the form he finds in Europe in the Green and Gold.