Former Springbok scrumhalf and 2007 Rugby World Cup winner Ruan Pienaar believes Rassie Erasmus’s team need not fear anyone ahead of the start of the World Cup in Japan later this week.
The Boks kick off their Pool B challenge with an opening match against the back-to-back defending champions New Zealand in Yokohama on Saturday (11.45am SA time kick-off).
“The Boks have got nothing to be scared of,” said the veteran 35-year-old who played 88 Tests for the Boks between 2006 and 2015.
“There’s always a lot of pressure on a national team and the expectation for the Boks to do well and win will always be there. South Africans love their national teams and the players there in Japan will feel that pressure, but my message to them would be to go out there and continue with what they’ve done over the last two years.
“The players should know Rassie believes in them because he’s backed them from last year, and they’ve done the job for him, so they’ve nothing to be scared of. They must see the next few weeks as an opportunity and they must embrace it. I’m very positive they’ll do well.”
Pienaar, who has joined the Cheetahs and won the Currie Cup last weekend after several years playing abroad, added the Boks would be in a good space ahead of the All Blacks showdown this weekend.
“The Boks have obviously turned things around in the last two years and they’ve hit some nice momentum at the right time and I’m looking forward to seeing how they go in their opening game.
“Obviously it’s a tough start, but the Boks showed earlier this year in Wellington they can perform and challenge the All Blacks.”
Looking further ahead, Pienaar said the Boks’ biggest challenge would be their match against New Zealand and that they shouldn’t have too many problems getting past their other pool opponents, namely Canada, Italy and Namibia.
“Look, we all said the Boks would beat Japan four years ago, and that didn’t happen, so you never know. A World Cup is a different and difficult challenge ... there’s lots of pressure and small mistakes can come back to bite you. So, Italy could be a tough one (compared to Canada and Namibia), but Rassie is a clever coach and he would have prepared all the guys already for all the matches. He’s got a great squad to pick from so, to be honest, I can’t see the Boks having too many difficulties, except of course for New Zealand.”
Pienaar wasn’t prepared to pick a tournament winner. “I’m confident the Boks will do well, I really am, but it’s an open race. A number of teams have stuck their hands up over the last few months ... there’s Wales, Ireland, England; Australia and New Zealand will always be there, and then there are the Boks ... it’s all to play for.”
So who does he back to start at No 9 for the Boks this week, and going forward? “There’s great depth; Cobus (Reinach) is coming off an incredible season with Northampton and his selection is completely justified, while Herschel (Jantjies) leap-frogged a lot of guys this year. He wasn’t even mentioned as a World Cup contender at the start of the year. I didn’t even know who he was. But, he’s performed so well ... got his chance and took it.
“Faf (de Klerk) is there and he’s played well too, so there’s a good balance at scrumhalf. Everyone brings something different and exciting, which is fantastic, but it’s a tough choice for Rassie to have to make.”
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