Back in the Tank

Many long-standing Cell C Sharks fans will remember scrumhalf Ruan Pienaar with great fondness, be it the try he scored against the Blue Bulls in the 2008 Carling Currie Cup Final, or his touchline conversion of Odwa Ndungane’s try against the Crusaders two minutes after the final whistle in that amazing 2007 Vodacom Super Rugby season.

Given the Cell C Sharks wealth of talent at scrumhalf, no doubt his return to the Durban franchise would have been furtherest from his mind, but Springbok call-ups and injuries meant there was a hole to fill in the number nine jersey and his intimate knowledge of northern hemisphere rugby, having played the game in Ireland and France for a decade, means he’s back in the Cell C Sharks colours.

“I never thought I’d be back playing in a Cell C Sharks jersey again, but it’s great to get the opportunity to play with these guys again and I have a lot of fond memories of my time in Durban,” he admitted from the team’s base.

“It’s completely different now, I used to be the youngster in the team, now I’m the oldest so it is a bit different, but no less enjoyable.

“KZN is a very special province to me, I had a wonderful time playing for the Cell C Sharks previously and feel very fortunate to be back.”

Casting his attention to the Vodacom United Rugby Championship, in particular with the change in fortunes between the first and second, and then third URC matches, when the Cell C Sharks got a lot right against Ospreys, he explains, “The Munster game was always going to be a massive learning curve, they’re a really good team and they’re tough to play at home and I guess it wasn’t the easiest introduction to the URC for this young group.

“But we’ve started to improve in the areas that let us down in that game which took the result away from us, our discipline in the last two games has been really good. Against Glasgow, a few things done a little better might have resulted in a different story and we managed to change that for the game against Ospreys.

“We managed the game well, played in the right areas, discipline was good and we took our chances which is what you need in this competition, where you need to find your feet and adapt to the way the game is played and how referees blow as well. I thought the guys responded really well and hopefully we can see more of that this weekend.”

Given his experiences of playing in both hemispheres during his illustrious career, he is well-placed to determine what the South African sides need to do to be successful against northern hemisphere opposition.

“It really is a completely different way of playing over here, you have to manage things very differently and adapt to the changes and your game-management and key decision-makers are vital in these games.

“When I first came over to play in Europe, the talk was that northern hemisphere rugby wasn’t at the same level you got down south, but I played here for a long time and that simply isn’t true. These teams are well-coached, you play against international, top-quality players every week and it’s a huge challenge. So it will take time for our teams to adapt, but it is a very exciting time for SA rugby and I think we will get stronger and stronger as the competition progresses.”

Shifting focus to this week’s game against Cardiff Rugby, he warns that their Welsh opponents will be fighting their way out of a corner.

“I think they’ll be disappointed after two losses and they’ll look to bounce back. This is a good team with a lot of international players and a very dangerous backline, and if you give them time on the ball and allow them to gain some momentum so they can play with pace and determine the tempo of the game, then it will be a tough challenge. But if we’re accurate on attack and look after the ball, it will be tough to defend against us on the 4G pitch. Hopefully we can control things well again, get some good momentum and that will put us in good stead going forward.

“For us, after a good win, it’s about backing that performance up with another good one. It’s our last week on tour and we would like to finish on a high.”