United Rugby Championship

Veteran Pienaar issues stark URC caution to SA teams: 'It will take a year or two to adapt'

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Ruan Pienaar. (Photo by Ben Evans/Gallo Images)
Ruan Pienaar. (Photo by Ben Evans/Gallo Images)
  • Cheetahs skipper and former Bok Ruan Pienaar has laid bare the reality that it will take time for SA franchises to taste tangible success in the URC.
  • The 37-year-old veteran was loaned to the Sharks and admits the challenges in terms of adapting has been immense, particularly in terms of refereeing.
  • But he believes the Sharks and Bulls have invested in squads that will come good in the coming months.

Ruan Pienaar has never been a pessimistic fellow, but he has implored South Africa's United Rugby Championship (URC) franchises and supporters to be patient when it comes to getting to grips with playing in the northern hemisphere.

The evergreen 37-year-old Cheetahs captain and 88-cap Springbok experienced that reality first-hand after he was loaned to the Sharks for the first four months of the inaugural edition.

South Africa's start to the competition has been decidedly poor with a combined record that reads six wins from 20 matches, something that's further illustrated by the fact that its highest log position is the Lions in 11th place.

Pienaar, for one, isn't exactly surprised by the struggle to adapt given that he was an Ulster stalwart for seven years.

"It's definitely different," he said.

"When I went abroad to play in Ireland a decade ago, a lot of people thought that rugby in the northern hemisphere is boring and lacks tempo. It was a perception that I learnt very quickly isn't true.

"The URC has always featured teams that are really well coached and the players in their squads are some of the best in the world."

Indeed, as someone like Bulls mentor Jake White has continually pointed out, teams such as Leinster, Ulster, Munster, Cardiff, Ospreys, Scarlets and Edinburgh all boast squads with 23 or more internationals present.

Yet South Africa's biggest handicap has simply been to adapt to the refereeing interpretations, which is already fundamentally different to what they are used to locally.

And that's something that doesn't change overnight.

"It's going to be a big challenge," said Pienaar.

"It will take a year or two for the guys to adapt to the way the referees blow matches and the way the game is played over there. One thing I realised is that we've had to focus on areas that we didn't normally concentrate on in training and matches.

"But I don't think there's a reason to be despondent, teams like the Bulls and Sharks have decent squads to compete."

The Durbanites in particular improved steadily along with the Lions before the December break and Pienaar made his enjoyment of his stint apparent.

"I was grateful to the Cheetahs and coach Hawies (Fourie) for granting me the opportunity to go back to (my former team) and play a bit of URC," he said.

"At my age, the body appreciates playing rugby more than having another pre-season. The Sharks clearly now have financial and strategic backing. You can really see that. They've built up a really good squad and they'll be in a strong position in the coming months."

The local URC campaign resumes next weekend.

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