VIDEO: Why Bok legends signed with Cheetahs
Despite no guarantee of an international competition in the foreseeable future, the Cheetahs have managed to retain the services of two legends of the game – Frans Steyn and Ruan Pienaar.
The Springbok duo extended their contracts with the Cheetahs until at least the end of 2023.
“We are delighted to announce that both our captain, Ruan Pienaar, and utility back Frans Steyn have committed to the Cheetahs for another year,” Free State Rugby (Pty) Ltd Chief Executive Officer Ross van Reenen said.
Van Reenen, who played in 62 Currie Cup matches and four finals for the Cheetahs, said the key to keeping two such legends in Bloemfontein is the ‘family unit’ that exists at the Cheetahs.
“This is what is happening in this team,” he said of the class of 2022, adding: “We finished second from last [in the Currie Cup] last year.
“There has been a massive turnaround this year and it comes back to key players and key personnel [like Steyn and Pienaar] that keep the whole team together.”
Steyn, one of only two South Africans that have won the World Cup twice, explained that “being happy” is the main reason for his decision to sign on for more in Bloemfontein – despite some offers from abroad.
“It is a special time here,” he said of a Cheetahs team that is unbeaten in the Currie Cup and building some impressive momentum.
“I am enjoying it at the moment and I would like to continue being part of the Cheetahs and what is happening here.”
He said winning the Currie Cup is “very important”.
“When we [the Cheetahs] got kicked out of competitions, a lot of the guys left,” he said of the Cheetahs’ rocky road in the last decade – that has resulted in them being axed from Super Rugby and the Pro14.
“I think we have already achieved a lot, coming from there [being axed]. This group has not been together that long and winning trophies doesn’t happen overnight, so we have to keep on working hard and hopefully, we can get the result [winning the Currie Cup] at the end.”
Pienaar quipped that, unlike Steyn, there weren’t any offers on the table from abroad, because he is “too old”.
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“It [Bloemfontein] is a special place and my family is happy,” saying that is the main reason for his decision to sign on.
“I am enjoying my time in Bloemfontein, being back where I grew up.
“There is still a lot of hard work, but we are trying to build something special.
“We have the right people to steer us in that direction.
Steyn, who was a member of the World Cup-winning Springbok teams on 2007 and 2019, sidestepped the question about his international aspirations.
“My focus has been on deciding whether I should stay in Bloemfontein or not,” the 35-year-old utility back said, adding: “I am glad I am staying with the Cheetahs and want to thank everyone who made that possible.
“I want us to do well in the Currie Cup and what happens after that, are concerns for another day.”
Steyn, joined the Sharks straight after matriculating at Grey College in 2006, after which he also played for Racing Metro in France (2009 to 2012), the Brave Lupus in Japan (2014 to 2016) and the French team Montpellier (2016 to 2020) before joining the Cheetahs in 2020.
He played his first of 74 matches for the Springboks at the age of 19 and become the second Springbok after the former Cheetah Pieter du Randt to win two World Cups.
He made his Test debut for the Boks on the wing in 2006 and also started for the Springboks at flyhalf, centre and fullback.
Since returning to the Free State in August 2020, Steyn played in 22 matches for the side.
When Pienaar was injured last year, he took over the place-kicking duties, a role which he performed particularly well.
He has been in excellent form for the Cheetahs this year and played a cardinal role in the team’s unbeaten record in the current Currie Cup competition.
Pienaar, the son of former Springbok fullback Gysie Pienaar, has been a revelation since his return to Bloemfontein.
Another product of Grey College, Pienaar joined the Sharks after making his debut for the Cheetahs in 2004 and represented them in 32 Currie Cup games and 67 Super Rugby matches.
In 2010 he joined the Irish side Ulster in Belfast, for who he played in 141 matches between 2010 and 2017.
In 2012, Pienaar played in the European Cup Final, scoring nine points against Leinster. In 2013 he played in the Pro12 Final, scoring all of Ulster’s 18 points against Leinster. He left the Irish province as one of its most celebrated players of the professional era.
He also played for the French team Montpellier, before returning home to his place of birth, Bloemfontein in 2019.
The 38-year-old has 88 Test caps, including playing a pivotal role in the two-one series win over the 2009 British and Irish Lions.
His last Test was against Argentina in a World Cup match at the Olympic Stadium, in London, in 2015.