While South Africa battle with depth at scrumhalf in the build-up to the 2019 Rugby World Cup, one of the stalwarts in that position in recent years, Ruan Pienaar, says he has no regrets over his decision to end his Springboks career.
Pienaar announced his retirement from the international game two years, but he remains an integral player at French Top 14 side Montpellier, whom he helped to the domestic final last year.
With Faf du Klerk unavailable and Ross Cronje injured, the Boks have Sharks scrumhalf Louis Schreuder (one cap) and the Bulls’ Ivan van Zyl (three) and Embrose Papier (four) in line to face England at Twickenham on Saturday.
With 88 caps to his name, the Boks could have used a player of Pienaar’s experience and versatility on the tour, and at the World Cup in Japan next year after he helped the side lift the 2007 trophy in France. But he says that chapter of his career is now firmly closed.
“I am very happy with where I am now,” Pienaar tells KweseESPN in an exclusive interview in Montpellier.
“I’ve got a young family and when you live abroad, you do sense that you need to spend a bit more time at home.
“There is lots of talent in South Africa and I’m getting on at 34 now, so it was a good time. I had a great time being involved, experienced some great things and played with some great players, but I’m very happy with my decision.”
Pienaar may point to his age, but it is not a concern for Erasmus, who recalled 36-year-old outside back Gio Aplon after a six-year absence for his latest squad in the November internationals.
Pienaar enjoyed every moment of his Boks career but says that his reputation as a versatile player likely did him no favours.
He featured for South Africa mostly at scrumhalf, but also flyhalf, fullback, wing and even centre. In fact, he played in every one of those positions in a six-test run in 2007 that included the World Cup as then coach Jake White moved him up and down the backline.
“In the beginning you don’t mind, you want to be involved and play wherever they put you,” Pienaar says of his shifting positions. “But over time you realise that you have to pick a position and stick to it.
“That versatility tag is sometimes not the greatest thing as you are seen as a bench player to cover a few positions. I enjoyed playing a bit of flyhallf, fullback and scrumhalf, but the latter is the position I enjoyed most.
“You see a lot of players that never really reach the potential as they should have because they have this ‘versatility tag’ and are seen as an impact player. So it probably isn’t the greatest thing.”
The son of former Boks fullback Gysie Pienaar says he feels fortunate to have achieved his lifelong dream of playing for South Africa and having a career that lasted a decade.
“I had so many games on video as a kid that my dad played, and I used to watch those almost on a daily basis, so I grew up dreaming of playing for the Springboks,” he says.
“I left South Africa when I was 26 and I was still in the prime of my career, which is pretty young, I guess. But after years of touring the same places and playing the same teams, I felt I needed something new and a different challenge. That was the reason for me coming abroad.
“I also thought at that stage that my Springbok career was over, but Peter de Villiers kept me in the squad, and Heyneke Meyer later as well. I was fortunate to be able to play abroad and still be involved with South Africa.”
Pienaar has no regrets at all in a career that also saw him play for seven years each at South Africa’s Sharks and Ulster in Northern Ireland, before he joined Montpellier in 2017.
“I don’t regret any decision in my career,” he says
“I loved playing for the Sharks and am still a supporter. I also loved living in Durban. The same for my seven-and-a-half good years in Northern Ireland.
“When I retire one day I will look back and think I have played for some great teams and with some great players.”
Pienaar says New Zealand remain the obvious favourites for the World Cup next year, but he can see challengers to their crown emerging.
“New Zealand are favourites to win obviously, but we have seen how South Africa beat them recently and other teams have gone close too,” he says.
“Ireland have been very good; they have played unbelievable rugby of late and are so well coached under Joe Schmidt. You can also never rule out South Africa and Australia at World Cups; that’s where they normally perform well.
“England and Wales also have an outside chance, so it will be an interesting World Cup at an interesting venue in Japan.
“It’s exciting to see the competition being taken there and it will be a big challenge for everyone.”