Hopefully Ruan Pienaar has now silenced all his critics and detractors. He came through what some have called his “baptism of fire” as starting fly half with flying colours for the Springboks against Wales at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff last week.
Now he must be allowed to settle down and get on with the job for the good of South African rugby – because he has shown that he has all the right credentials to become one of the great Springbok fly halves.
His confidence will surely have been boosted with the knowledge that coach Peter de Villiers has also finally recognised his skills by retaining him to start the Test against Scotland this Saturday.
In the Boks’ 20-15 victory over Wales, Pienaar looked like an old hand at fly half and performed superbly in all aspects of his play – effectively making the prophets of doom eat their words for predicting disaster for the Springboks. His eloquent response to the warnings of what a “tremendous gamble” it had been to play him in this pivotal position was a display of his rare talent. He used his skill to reply to those pundits who claimed he did not have the necessary “know-how” and experience.
And it would indeed have been the cherry on top of a great performance if he managed to hold onto the ball and score a try when he was crash-tackled by two Welshmen only centimetres from the line after he had characteristically sliced through the defence about five minutes before halftime.
Of course, the “experts” who wrote him off simply because he said he would prefer to play scrum half and therefore surmised that he would not be sufficiently motivated to excel at fly half were either conspicuously silent after the Wales match – or morphed into true-blue (or is that green) Ruan cheerleaders.
There are, no doubt, still skeptics who will say that “one good performance does not a great player make”. Yet this was not his first good performance for the Springboks and he is no longer a rookie in the green and gold – although you would never have thought so last week when all the reservations and warnings were flying about.
For the record: when he took to the field against Wales, he earned his 25th Springbok cap. It was the fourth time he had played fly half in the green and gold – albeit the first time in the starting line-up. He has also played scrum half in 13 tests (started in four); fullback in five (started in two) and wing in three (all as a replacement). Most commentators during his Bok career agreed that he invariably injected new vigour into the Springbok backline every time he ran on as a replacement.
So, to say he faced a baptism of fire last Saturday is something of an exaggeration. The match against Scotland this weekend will test him on a different level: chances are the game will be played in bitterly cold, wet weather. However, I am confident he will be able to adapt to the conditions and keep the Boks moving forward.