Don’t forget about Frans Steyn, Ruan Pienaar before the Lions start to roar
DURBAN - While the Preparation Series has been successful in unearthing fresh talent at the Bulls, Sharks, Stormers and Lions, it has also confirmed the pedigree of a few veterans, most notably the Cheetahs duo of Ruan Pienaar and Frans Steyn, both of whom have been in irresistible form.
Pienaar, in particular, has been sublime since making a comeback in this series after recovering from a knee injury sustained early in the Currie Cup last year.
The manner in which he has coolly run the show in his team’s victories over the Stormers and Sharks has been an absolute joy.
Pienaar is calm, he is composed and he constantly makes the right decisions.
Many will think I am nuts to suggest the 36-year-old should leapfrog the World Cup-winning scrumhalves in Faf de Klerk, Herschell Jantjies and Cobus Reinach, but if the Springboks have to play the British & Irish Lion series in the UK, where Pienaar spent seven hugely successful years at Ulster – he was practically given the freedom of Belfast he was so revered – plus two seasons at Montpelier, I reckon it would be nuts not to have him somewhere in the mix.
Steyn is another Cheetah making a telling impact on his teammates with his measured option-taking.
At 33, he is no speedster but he doesn’t need to be quick when his game is now about creating opportunities for those around him, be it a powerful surge over the advantage line followed by an offload to a support runner, or a judicious chip/grubber to crack open the defence.
The problem for South African rugby is that these two vital players will not be gainfully employed at the end of the Preparation Series.
While the former Super Rugby teams go into the Rainbow Cup, which in turn is a preparation series for the British & Irish Lions, the Cheetahs are sans a competition.
The last word on their fate was that they had applied to participate in the Intercontinental Cup, an European event featuring the likes of Russia and Spain.
If that doesn’t sound too glamorous, even worse is the fact that it only kicks off in September, two months after the Lions series.
You understand now why the Cheetahs feel they are the pariahs of South African rugby and Pienaar and Steyn made public statements to this effect when it was first announced that the Free Staters (and the Kings) had been cut from the Pro14 to make way for their countrymen.
Perhaps it is a good idea – and this is no solace for the Cheetahs as a whole – that the likes of Pienaar, Steyn, Rosko Specman, Oupa Mahoje and Junior Pokomela are seconded to our four Rainbow Cup teams.
Even that is not ideal for the four teams in that they have their long-term plans with their contracted players.
In reality, we could see at least Steyn and Specman being headhunted – for instance, Jake White needs to strengthen his depth at centre at the Bulls, and Steyn would be ideal.