Ruan Pienaar: Curtain falls after 20 years

Henry

The curtain fell on Friday evening at Shimlapark in Bloemfontein on one of the best versatile backs who played for the Springboks, Free State Cheetahs, Sharks, Ulster and Montpellier.

It has been a privilege for more than 20 years to see the 40-year-old Ruan Pienaar in action, to experience how he reads and dictates the game, shows how to stay calm and how he has mesmerized his opponents for years.

He was in his last game for the Cheetahs on Friday night in the losing team against Griekwas (39-17) in the SA Cup Series, but this in no way detracts from this genius player.

I was still a little bit in Pretoria when his father, Gysie Pienaar, ran out as a youngster for the Free State against Northern Transvaal.

Gysie, who played in 13 Tests, was quick, he could kick off, side step and swerve and together with HO de Villiers moved the goal posts from full back play with their attacking ability.

As the former rugby boss dr. Danie Craven always said, the genes ran deep in the Pienaar family with the father and son combination of Gysie and Ruan.

Ruan, who scored 135 points in 88 tests for the Springboks, played in more than 300 games for Ulster (141), as well as for Montpellier (28) and the Sharks (67) in Super Rugby (32 Currie Cup games and five loan games) and represented the Cheetahs 85 times.

He scored more than 2,000 points in his first-class career, was in the Boks’ World Cup winning team in France in 2007 and represented the Springboks in tests at scrum-half, fly-half, wing and full-back.

It was actually to his detriment that he was so versatile, as he should have played in many more Tests and been used less on the substitutes’ bench.

Pienaar, who will now coach the Free State under-21 team, is a very deep thinker of the game because he has played in almost every full-back position.

Pienaar will achieve great success as a coach, just like father Gysie who was one of the Springboks’ assistant coaches in 1995 when they won the World Cup.

As a tactical kicker, Ruan had almost no equal, nor as a set-piece kicker.

He read and summarized the game very well, had vision, remained calm and, like father Gysie, was always willing to pass on his knowledge and advice to the younger players.

His path to fame may have been mapped out, but for 20 years he walked it every week through hard work, discipline, fitness and bubbling talent.

When Ruan walked off the field on Friday night, Tina Turner’s hit “Simply the Best” was played quite appropriately.

After all, he was one of the very best.