JOHANNESBURG – Will Free State Cheetahs boss Franco Smith take a gamble on veteran scrumhalf star Ruan Pienaar and pick him for this Friday’s round four Currie Cup match against the Lions in Bloemfontein?
Without Pienaar in the mix, the Cheetahs have registered two big wins - against the Bulls (43-27, away) and Griquas (68-14, home) for a full-house of 10 points and top spot on the log. However, the Lions are also unbeaten in their two games which may convince Smith to pick Pienaar.
The 35-year-old former Springbok scrumhalf is back in Bloemfontein after turning out for Ulster and Montepellier in Europe and before that, the Sharks. He has signed a two-year deal to play for the Cheetahs - in the Currie Cup and Pro 14 - and has never worn the senior Cheetahs jersey, having joined the Sharks straight after school.
His experience, knowledge and ability to play in a number of backline positions will be a big boost for the Free State side, especially following the departure from Bloemfontein in recent times of scrumhalves like Shaun Venter, Rudy Paige and Ruben de Haas. Besides Tian Meyer, who is the official team captain but currently nursing a hamstring niggle, coach Smith’s other scrumhalf options are rookies Dian Badenhorst and Rewan Kruger, none of whom have much senior experience.
Pienaar trained for the first time with his new teammates yesterday and said afterwards he wasn’t quite sure if he’d be in the mix this weekend.
“Nothing’s been decided yet,” said the scrumhalf about his prospects of playing this weekend. “I haven’t played in a while, even though I’ve done some training on my own. The match sharpness and match fitness isn’t probably there at the moment, but that will come in time. It would be exciting if I were to get some game time this week though.”
Smith said last week he wouldn’t rush Pienaar back into action. “Ruan has got so much experience and can play almost anywhere in the backline,” Smith told OFM Sport last week, suggesting the 2007 World Cup winning No 9 would be considered in a number of backline positions.
“But, I am not going to rush him into anything; he’s going to be here for two years. Also, the guys who have worked hard in the pre-season deserve their chance to play. Ruan though will definitely be an asset for us.”
The Lions meanwhile, who’re coming off a last-gasp win against Western Province at Newlands (30-28) - following their first round 38-37 come-from-behind triumph against the Pumas - will be without key lock and line-out man Marvin Orie for the trip to Bloemfontein.
Orie featured for the Boks in the Test against Australia 10 days ago, but didn’t play against New Zealand this last weekend, freeing him up to turn out for the Lions.
He, however, has rejoined the Boks in Auckland where the team are preparing for next Saturday’s Rugby Championship Test against Argentina in Buenos Aires.@jacq_west