Is Pienaar the man for the job?

Date published: August 13 2014

Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer did not speak with much conviction about his decision to select Ruan Pienaar at scrum-half for Saturday.

While there was no shortage of confidence in the young guns who will be given an opportunity to prove themselves at international level, Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer did not speak with as much conviction about his decision to select Ruan Pienaar at scrum-half for his team's opening Test in Pretoria on Saturday.

The Springboks open their Rugby Championship campaign against Argentina at Loftus Versfeld and the Bok mentor hinted at the fact that the match would be played at a high tempo.

Meyer was quick to point out that the number of minutes the ball remains in play has drastically increased over the last two years and could not stress enough how important quality front foot possession would be to his team's ambitions.

He said that when he started he viewed Test rugby as more of an arm wrestle where defence is a priority, but conceded that he and his management team had to change their strategic mindset as a result of new developments.

With that said, the selection of Pienaar may be perceived as contradictory to the new mindset Meyer is looking to encourage.

Although one of the most talented players and loyal servants of South African rugby, the speed of Pienaar's service has been a source of much frustration in recent years.

He has often been criticised for failing to provide the passing-quality needed to get South Africa's strike runners on the front foot while his kicking game has not always complemented the team's gameplan.

Piernaar's sometimes sluggish service may very well be attributed to the amount of Northern Hemisphere rugby he has been exposed to in recent years and it may also be argued that, with Fourie du Preez out injured, his experience is what made the decision easier at the end.

However, the potential conundrum Meyer faces lies not as much in Pienaar's selection, but rather in that of his back-up – Francois Hougaard.

Hougaard has struggled tremendously behind the back of the rucks this year and was later mostly used at wing for the Bulls during their dismal Super Rugby campaign.

And although Meyer's men are unlikely to suffer their first ever loss to Argentina this weekend because of these selections, it raises a few questions as far as the team's long term goals are concerned.

Asked whether Pienaar would have to make a step-up, Meyer said: “I think all nines in South Africa really need to play at a higher tempo.

“If you want to be the best team in the world and in Super Rugby, you need to up the tempo and that starts with the breakdown where we need to get quick ball.

“That's one area I've always said I think South Africa have fallen behind.

“We as a Springbok team worked really hard at that and the stats prove that we were the best, not only at stealing, but also at getting quick ball and that is an area we really worked hard on.

“They know it is one area where they need to improve. We need quick ball from the nine's.”

Although mostly praised for their work at scrums and line-outs, Argentina have also on previous occasions successfully prevented the Springboks from gaining quick ball at the breakdown.

Pienaar will therefore enter this weekend's match with a load of responsibility on his shoulders – a responsibility that includes partnering with young Handre Pollard for the first time.

By Michael Mentz