Saturday 16 December 2017

Pienaar's faith unshakable in face of French task

Niall Crozier

fAITH plays a huge part in the life of Ruan Pienaar, who is well-known and much-respected in sporting circles and beyond for his deep Christian convictions.

But this week, when he spoke about his faith, it was with regard to Ulster Rugby.

Asked if he believes they are good enough to do what no Ulster side has ever done – namely win a Heineken Cup match in France – his reply was as positive as it was instant.

"I think so, yes. There is a lot of belief within the side, there are enough players and there is enough experience to get a result over there," he answered.

There was a qualification, however, when he added: "In saying that, it's never easy in France, no matter which French side you play, so it's going to be a big challenge for us.

"It would be great, though, to get that first win over there and hopefully secure a home quarter-final. We have a lot to play for and that is important. We all know what is available so it would be great to get a good result."

Despite his brilliance, he is a very modest man. There is visible embarrassment when he is reminded of some of what has been written and said about his recent form, which has been quite exceptional.

"I'm glad if you guys (the media) think that," he smiled. "But as a player you are probably your own worst critic. After a game when you watch it you see what you've done wrong as well as what you've done well."

Pienaar was enthusiastic about Ulster's form, direction and strategy this season. "I'm playing in a fantastic side. We're playing really good rugby so you can't really ask for anything better. I am enjoying the brand of rugby we're trying to play and that is important; I think that if you are enjoying what you are doing on the pitch then you will be happy."

But the Springbok ace admitted that Ulster have been hit hard by injuries, with marquee players like fellow South African Johann Muller, plus Stephen Ferris and Tommy Bowe – both of whom graced the pitches of his homeland in the red of the Lions in 2009 – among the absentees.

"The last couple of weeks it has been scary to see how many guys are out," he said. "But I believe we have got enough depth in this squad to react well to that and carry on with the job."

Given how central and crucial a role he plays in today's ultra-physical game, his own penchant in side-stepping injury is remarkable, particularly as he has been playing practically non-stop for the past two years.

Again there was a broad smile when he said: "I've been really blessed in rugby in the past couple of years. Maybe I'm just clever in not taking as much contact as other guys and making them do the hard yards!"

His World Cup winner pedigree and all-round excellence notwithstanding, Pienaar insists that he is still learning. Last May's Heineken Cup defeat is an example of an experience from which he and his colleagues discovered a great deal about themselves. Painful, yes, but ultimately beneficial is his view of Twickenham 2012.

"If you play in a game like that and you don't learn then there is probably something wrong with you," he said. "I think we are growing and improving every week. It's not always pretty. What is important is to get those results and keep winning."

Castres be warned – a genuine rugby genius is heading your way in the belief that he and his team-mates can beat you.

Irish Independent

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