A reinvigorated Ruan Pienaar is ready to step out of Fourie du Preez‘s shadow and make the Springbok number nine jersey his own.
28-year-old Pienaar broke onto the international scene on 2006 but his Springbok career struggled to take off as Du Preez had established himself as South Africa’s first-choice scrumhalf and held the position until his exit from Test rugby after the 2011 World Cup.
Pienaar’s versatility also proved a hindrance rather than a help and after a trial at flyhalf, he was demoted to the bench where he provided cover as utility back.
A move to Irish club Ulster saw him receiving regular starts at scrumhalf and catching the eye of new Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer.
After biding his time as back-up for Bulls scrumhalf Francois Hougaard for the home series against England in June, Pienaar was promoted to the starting line-up during the ongoing Rugby Championship and has been making the most of the opportunity.
"I've competed against some good nine's in South Africa in the past and it is great for me to get an opportunity now," Pienaar said on Wednesday.
"I've really enjoyed the three Tests that I started now and hopefully I can continue in that vein and try to play as well as possible and be in contention for that jersey for the next couple of years if possible."
As a veteran of 59 Tests, Pienaar is one of the most experienced players in the Springbok squad and gives the side an extra goal-kicking option.
Pienaar took on the added responsibility in last Saturday’s 31-8 victory over Australia after rookie flyhalf Johan Goosen missed two penalties early in the match.
Although he was only successful with three of his seven attempts at goal, Pienaar relishes the goal-kicking responsibilities and plans to put more time into his training in this department.
"I take the responsibility and it is something I enjoy, obviously it didn't go as well as I'd liked to on Saturday," he said.
"But I haven't kicked in that pressure situation since my season ended back at Ulster in the Heineken Cup.
"So I need to get back in again and take the responsibility and hopefully do it well as possible.
"I've had a good season with the kicking boot over in the Northern Hemisphere and I would like to continue in that way but I still need to train hard and tweak a couple of things here and there."
Looking to Saturday’s clash with the All Blacks in Soweto, Pienaar said the Springboks would have to make the most of every opportunity they get.
"We need to take our opportunities. It was something we lacked in New Zealand where we created two or three opportunities and didn't finish it," Pienaar said.
"In Test match rugby you only get two or three opportunities, especially against the All Blacks, so it is about being accurate, being patient and playing the right area.
"The games on tour, I thought we created a lot of opportunities that could have put us in a winning situation but we made one or two errors and that probably cost us the game in the end."
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