‘Ultimate competitor’ Ruan Pienaar wants to turn Cheetahs’ bitter pill into sweet Currie Cup triumph

Ruan Pienaar in action during the Free State Cheetahs Currie Cup clash against the Blue Bulls in Bloemfontein on Saturday. Photo: Christiaan Kotze/BackpagePix

Ruan Pienaar in action during the Free State Cheetahs Currie Cup clash against the Blue Bulls in Bloemfontein on Saturday. Photo: Christiaan Kotze/BackpagePix

Published Jun 18, 2023


Cape Town — Ruan Pienaar played 88 Tests for the Springboks and over 300 other first-class matches for various teams, but at the age of 39, he is still as sprightly as ever on a rugby field.

It was not just the six penalties that he booted through the uprights in the Cheetahs’ 39-10 Currie Cup semi-final win over the Blue Bulls in Bloemfontein on Saturday, but also the way he controlled the game overall.

Pienaar delivered a master-class in flyhalf play at the Free State Stadium.

He relieved defensive pressure and applied pressure on the Pretoria side with clever kicks, precise passes and sometimes even taking on the opposition himself with ball-in-hand.

His long punt downfield early on from inside his 22 led to Johan Goosen’s kick being charged-down by Cheetahs centre Reinhardt Fortuin, who won the race to the ball to score in his 50th appearance.

It was just the tonic the home side needed to settle the nerves, and they slowly ground down Marcell Coetzee and his Bulls outfit to register a comfortable victory and advance to Saturday’s final against the Pumas at the same Free State Stadium (4pm kick-off).

And after the Free Staters were beaten 38-35 by the Pumas in last year’s semi-final, Pienaar is hoping for a different outcome in the championship decider.

“We are just really happy to get the win. It’s a quality Bulls side, and I thought we kept it simple and did the simple things really well. Our town needs it, our province needs this win, so it’s for all the supporters,” Pienaar told SuperSport in a post-match TV interview.

“But grateful for the win. Hats off to the Bulls – they are always a tough team to play against. One more week to go, and hopefully we can prepare well and be ready for next week.

“We’ve tried to put that (semi-final loss to the Pumas) on the back seat. Last year was a bitter pill to swallow, and it was tough for all of us.

“But I think we are slowly building momentum, and it’s all about preparation going into next weekend and being ready for the final.

“In a final, anything can happen – whoever pitches up and does the little things well. It’s always difficult … It’s too close to call always.”

Cheetahs coach Hawies Fourie praised Pienaar for his work-rate off the ball as much as his 100% goal-kicking success rate.

“His performance was unbelievable. With Ruan, you can’t think at this age that he can play so well – and not just play so well, but be so committed to make tackles and chase balls that someone kicks downfield and put pressure on,” Fourie said in the post-match press conference.

“Other guys will pull out and wait at the back until they kick it back, but he is such a competitive person. That is why he is so good: he is the ultimate competitor, and we saw tonight close to the best of Ruan Pienaar.

“Everyone doesn’t always understand it, but if you find grass with a kick, then you are just giving yourself a lot more time on the kick-chase.

“So, if the ball bounces and rolls, then you are able to get 20 or 30 metres closer to the guy who is going to kick or run the ball back.

“So, it is part of our style, and Ruan is very good at that. That is why we choose to play him at flyhalf as well, because he sees that space well and he kicks it there.

“David Brits, Reinhardt, Robert (Ebersohn) and Evardi (Boshoff) work extremely hard off the ball, and then we put a lot of pressure on the opposition and win a lot of territory like that.

“So, it’s part of our plan: either we try to hit the grass or contestables, which is when Dan Kasende is the guy who must try to win those balls back for us.”


Cheetahs 39 – Tries: Reinhardt Fortuin, Tapiwa Mafura, Evardi Boshoff. Conversion: Ruan Pienaar (2), Boshoff (1). Penalties: Pienaar (6).

Blue Bulls 10 – Try: Johan Grobbelaar. Conversion: Johan Goosen (1). Penalty: Goosen (1).


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