Bok coach to stick with Ruan?

Ruan Pienaar (AFP)
Ruan Pienaar (AFP)
Cape Town - There is fairly widespread agreement that Ruan Pienaar failed to be assertive after getting the opportunity to start for the Springboks once more against France, following senior scrumhalf Fourie du Preez’s slightly early exit from the European tour.

Reading between the lines, however, it seems Bok coach Heyneke Meyer still believes he is the obvious next best to Japan-based stalwart Du Preez in the pecking order at No 9 - at least until the new southern hemisphere season begins in early 2014 and others have the chance to catch the eye once more in Super Rugby.

Meyer has been pleasingly vocal about many of his thoughts, wishes and onward plans since the national side closed off their very decent year with the 19-10 triumph in Paris to ensure a second consecutive unbeaten Euro expedition.

Among other useful season-ending sound-bites recorded by the media, he spoke of an elusive “young, third-choice scrumhalf” as still being an area of some concern for him.

By extension, he seemed to be saying that he was happy enough with Pienaar’s continued presence as immediate back-up to Du Preez, who has largely impressed whenever he has turned out in effectively comeback matches for the Boks this year and stayed a cut above all other comers.

The more cynically-minded, nevertheless, might be tempted to venture that “second-choice scrumhalf” is actually an area of just as great uncertainty for South Africa.

Before he delivered yet another frustratingly warm-and-cold performance against the French (at least on many critics’ scorecards, including this one’s), Pienaar was lauded by Meyer as a “world-class player”, suggesting the coach continues to feel he is fairly clear-cut No 2 in the scrumhalf pecking order.

It doesn’t seem that very iffy evidence at Stade de France has done much to budge Meyer’s view, either.

Not for the first time in green and gold over the last couple of seasons, the Ulster-based Pienaar seemed to underwhelm in the position, despite his now intimate knowledge of wintry European conditions through his tenure in Ireland where he is, in fairness, very highly regarded.

Some of his tactical kicking, considered a strong point of his game, was reasonable enough, and those not partial to Pienaar may well have conveniently overlooked some tigerish tackles he made against the strongly motivated home side at times when they threatened.

Still, a rightful perception remains that he fails too often to produce personal moments of inspiration and can be a crucial split second slow to clear the ball - he seemed tardy and thus culpable to a good extent when the French turned over South African possession on the stroke of halftime to register their lone try on Saturday.

This writer’s own notebook from the Boks’ 2013 campaign is littered with “could have done better” sort of ratings for Pienaar when he has begun Tests.

That said, I gave him a 7.5/10 rating when the Springboks produced one of their most vibrant showings of the year, the 38-12 drought-breaker against Australia in Brisbane, and 6.5 in another lusty triumph, the 56-23 trampling of the uncompromising Samoans in the June window period.

Perhaps largely because other, domestic-based candidates have generally fail to impress Meyer - “there are a lot of good ones, but I still don’t see an exceptional one”, he was quoted as saying - Pienaar continues to rattle up Bok caps either as a substitute or starter at a rate of knots; the 29-year-old has just stretched his tally to 74.

The Boks did re-involve Jano Vermaak in the tour squad, although he is no spring chicken at almost 29 himself and now also based abroad, so can hardly be considered a youthful investment.

Meyer debatably took the WP scrumhalf Louis Schreuder along at year’s end for experience-building purposes in the broader Bok environment, although as expected he got no game-time at all and whether he has gone up or down in the coach’s estimation remains to be seen.

So the situation beneath the lingering gem who is Du Preez remains murky ... it would be most timely for a No 9 from a South African franchise in Super Rugby 2014 to smash his way into really firm Test-level contention.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing
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