Ruan Pienaar is the only overseas Springbok to be selected for The Rugby Championship. This is strange when you see the players like arguably the best Scrum Half in the world right now, Fourie Du Preez, not being selected as he is playing in the highly lucrative Japanese league.
Ruan was undoubtedly one of the players of the year in the RaboDirect Pro 12 last term. His southern hemisphere style of reading the game opened many league and European defences, whilst his ability to slip into the ten shirt, creating an invaluable partnership with Paul Marshall, changed the pace of the game when replacing Ian Humphreys.
Ruan’s strength last season was his talking to the back row. He was constantly pushing them on and using them not only in the old fashioned way of brute force but also, delicate one touch passing that released Andy Trimble and Craig Gilroy. Even big Dan Tuohy got over the white line because of the ball work of Ruan.
Ruan is named on the bench for the Boks this weekend and I am sure he is delighted with that. I know that the adopted Ulster-man has a huge fan base there, which is purely down to his efforts on the pitch. He is a very private man, not on Twitter, as many of his Ulster and South Africans are, and he regularly attends local church in his new home town in North Down.
At a recent open day at Ravenhill he spent more time signing shirts, posing for photos and trying a ‘Norn Iron’ accent with the younger generation than the old and bald club fans. South African flags, ‘Stand Up for the Ulster-man’ written in Afrikaans, new t-shirts emblazoned with ‘You’ve been Ruan-ed’ are all down to the success of this quiet, dedicated player.
Ulster played Ruan all last season and his match fitness was exemplary, he was instrumental in possibly the best season for Ulster since ’99. Why? Ruan leads the new and old Ulster-men by example, and he uses his size (all 92kg) to intimidate opposition back lines.
He has played 59 games for the Boks in a six-year international career. Does Ruan have Ulster to thank? No. Ulster and the Celtic league have him to thank.
I believe that the Boks will use him as an impact player during The Rugby Championship and he will not disappoint. I am sure the league will join me in wishing Ruan – and Tomas Vallejos, the Scarlets and Argentina lock – well and the best of luck in the tournament.
‘Staan oop vir die Ulster Man.’