Springbok legend closes curtains on illustrious career

Springbok legend closes curtains on illustrious career

After an illustrious abd much decorated rugby career, former Springbok scrum-half  Ruan Pienaar will take to the field for the final time for his beloved Toyota Cheetahs side in the SA Cup derby against Griquas on Friday night with long-time friend, former teammate and now Cheetahs Director of Rugby Frans Steyn has one wish - for Pienaar to make it one last rumble to remember.

“I hope they shoot crackers and they do something special. They should even hand out ice cream,” Steyn laughed when asked about Pienaar’s farewell, which will cap a remarkable 20 year journey that began and ended in Bloemfontein.

Pienaar's retirement come at the right time, with the South African having achieved many milestones other rugby players can only dream of achieving. A legend in Ulster Rugby circles, there was recently excitement in Northern Ireland with the prospect he may return to Belfast as a coach, although Pienaar laughs that off as “the media running with a story”.

Pienaar became Springbok number 779, a number that became very setimental to having made his first class debut for the Cheetahs in 2004. Fifteen years later Pienaar completed the perfect heroes welcome, as he returned to the Cheetahs and the city where he grew up, lead the side to a Currie Cup title, one of two tournament victories he now cherishes.

88 International Caps

Pienaar played 88 test matches for the Springboks, while earning 85 caps for the Toyota Cheetahs and another 99 games for the Sharks (32 Currie Cup and 67 Super Rugby matches).

In Ireland in the province of Ulster, he is still a folk hero, having played for Ulster a staggering 141 times, between 2010 and 2017, playing in the 2012 Heineken Cup final (now Champions Cup), scoring 9 points from the boot. The following year (2013) he helped Ulster to the Pro12 final, scoring all Ulster’s points as they lost to Leinster.

A short spell at Montpellier saw him earn another 28 caps before making his return to Bloemfontein. Although pienaar had set his sights on finishing his career for the Cheetahs, he took his Sharks’ cap tally to over 100 with five more games on loan.

Now at the age of 40 he finally hangs up his boots, and will join the Free State under-21 coaching staff as the new backline and attack coach as he looks to the next chapter in his life.

Speaking on his former teammate, fellow Springbok legend Frans Steyn said, “He hates to lose,” Steyn said as he smiled. “Even more than me. And he stresses before the game. But on the field he can read a game like few other players. It isn’t often that you find a player that has an all-round game like him, especially at nine. His passes are good, his kicking is exceptional, and he reads the game unbelievably well.”

Pienaar’s calmness has been another big asset in his career, as he handled tense and tough situations with all the experience he had picked up.

“Some of the young players might not agree,” Pienaar laughs, “They have seen me get really angry on the field. Sometimes you need to have some harsh words. But I’m the guy who always believes in driving the standards for the team, both in practice sessions and in games.

“Sometimes you are a bit hard on the youngsters, but I really don’t like to lose. I want us to play good rugby and it is because you love what you do. If you look at the top players it is an asset that they all have - you need to be able to take good decisions under pressure. Hopefully I had that throughout my career.

“Now that I’m going into coaching, it is something I want to concentrate on. Not all players have those skills and it is something I want to work on with them.”

Pienaar remained mostly injury free throughout most of his career which has made a major has contribution to the amazing numbers he has racked up in terms of appearances.

“I think I chose my position wisely, Frans (Steyn) took a bit more hammering in the midfield than I did at scrumhalf. I’ve been really blessed and fortunate that I haven’t picked up long term injuries. I had a knee injury when I was 19 or 20, but that was probably the most serious injury that I had,” Pienaar said.

“Everything is still intact. Hopefully all goes well on Friday and I will leave the game still feeling fine and being able to play with my kids afterwards.”

And while there are many accolades, trophies and man of the match performances, it is the memories that will sit with him for years to come.

“Winning trophies and medals are always nice. And being part of big games was always a thrill, but all the memories, that is all you are going to have left when you retire. All those things are nice - the memories you make with friends, and meeting new people. All the banter in the changerooms in the week and after games, those are the things you will always remember, the stories you share. I am going to miss playing but I guess those things will probably be with you for longer than the rest of it.”

In light of the plethora of international competitions in the SA Rugby calendar, the Currie Cup is the one trophy that is still the closest to his heart.

“I truly hope the competition continues for another 100 years,” Pienaar said.

“It is the competition with the most enduring history and features some of the biggest names in the game.

“I have had the privilege to have played in the Currie Cup competition and it remains something that deserves a special place in the South African calendar.

“To have returned to the Cheetahs at age 35 and to have been part of two Currie Cup-winning teams is special – given that when I left in 2004 I never thought I would play for the Cheetahs.”

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