Wednesday 26 June 2019

Ruan Pienaar saddened by Ireland's exit as Boks push for final

'Pienaar has lived in Belfast long enough to be saddened by Ireland’s exit at the quarter-final stage during a weekend which has led to much soul-searching north of the equator'
'Pienaar has lived in Belfast long enough to be saddened by Ireland’s exit at the quarter-final stage during a weekend which has led to much soul-searching north of the equator'
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Along with two touch judges, Ruan Pienaar will be the closest thing to an Irish presence on semi-final weekend and even then his chances of featuring against the All Blacks probably depend on the fitness of Springbok captain Fourie du Preez.

The Ulster scrum-half was yesterday named on the South Africa bench, but there was no place for Leinster's Zane Kirchner in the match-day 23. Leinster can claim Australia's Kane Douglas given he spent last season in Dublin, but other than that it's slim pickings after Ireland's exit.

Pienaar has lived in Belfast long enough to be saddened by Ireland's exit at the quarter-final stage during a weekend which has led to much soul-searching north of the equator.

Perhaps nobody is better qualified to compare the hemispheres than the 31-year-old who has balanced the rigours of the European season with regular appearances in the Rugby Championship since 2010.

Based on his experiences for province and country, he says that it is a shock that there are no Six Nations teams in the last four.

"Yes, I am surprised. We always expected to see two or three northern hemisphere teams to be involved," he explained. "The group with Wales, Australia and England was a really tough one, and someone had to lose out.

"And then obviously for me, playing with a lot of the Irish guys and seeing how they've progressed and how well they've played the last couple of months, it's almost sad for me not to see them in the semi-finals."

Rather than a systemic malaise, Pienaar simply points to the nature of tournament rugby where form and injury are key.

"I am surprised not to see anyone (from the northern hemisphere), but I think Argentina and Australia have been the two form sides in the pool stages and then the way New Zealand performed last weekend - they're always right up there - but I think everyone said this was going to be the most closely contested World Cup and I think it's probably been that," he said.

"Although there are no northern hemisphere teams, the way Scotland and Wales played with a lot of guys injured I think you've got to take your hat off to them. So it has been hotly-contested, but it is funny not to see a northern hemisphere team.

"World Cups are funny things. They are all one-off games, every one like a play-off. For Ireland to lose Paul (O'Connell), Peter (O'Mahony) and Johnny (Sexton), they are three key players and with Sean O'Brien banned, those are four really big players.

"As I said, with Argentina as one of the form sides, you were always going to be up against it. It has been interesting to watch it unfold. Now with these four teams anyone can win it on the day."

For all the distraction of being asked about the ills of the north by the journalists left behind, that is the real focus for the Boks who cut relaxed figures at their team announcement yesterday.

Heyneke Meyer named an unchanged team for the game against the team he described as "probably the best ever to play the game", but was in confident mood despite the daunting challenge of dethroning the world champions.

South Africa are the one team who simply have no fear of New Zealand.


"I do not want to be disrespectful - I love playing the All Blacks," Meyer said. "It is the easiest game as a coach to motivate a team.

"It is not about fear, but respecting an unbelievable team and believing you can beat them. Most of the guys have defeated them, but it is more excitement. You know as a coach that it could go either way and will go right to the last second.

"I always stand at the bottom (of the steps), facing the Haka out of respect.

"I never go up to the box until after the Haka because it sums up why you do this job; you stand there and the adrenalin is pumping as you face the Haka and you are just so pleased to be there. I love what they stand for and I love what South Africa stand for."

Each Springbok player told their own story of their late-night vigils watching Test matches in New Zealand and it is clear this fixture resonates.

Despite the world champions blowing France away in such clinical and comprehensive fashion last Saturday, South Africa appear calm and ready. They weren't great against Wales, but the fallout from the defeat to Japan seems a long time ago.

"In two weeks' time if we can win this it will cleanse the mind of that result a little bit," Pienaar concluded.

The All Blacks scalp and the Webb Ellis Cup should soften the blow alright.

Irish Independent

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