Ruan Pienaar: Hawies Fourie's long road to 'wisdom'
REACTION: Cheetahs coach Hawies Fourie made a pivotal decision recently that ended a run of defeats that could have had catastrophic consequences for their Currie Cup campaign.
It is a decision that not only put their campaign back on track, but has secured home-ground advantage in the semifinals – perhaps even the Final.
He moved veteran Springbok Ruan Pienaar to flyhalf and his performance in the win over the defending-champion Pumas in Nelspruit at the weekend perfectly illustrated why former Bok coach Peter de Villiers in 2009 referred to Pienaar as the ‘Tiger Woods of rugby‘.
Fourie said they are desperate to avoid the mistakes of last year, when they lost to the Pumas in a semifinal in Bloemfontein.
The weekend’s win was not as much ‘revenge’ for last year’s semifinal loss to the Pumas, it was more about regaining that winning formula that seemed have eluded them for a few weeks.
“It is a very intriguing season,” the Cheetahs coach said, adding: “The standard of the Currie Cup competition lifted significantly since teams started using their United Rugby Championship players.
However, the most significant change to the Cheetahs team has been the decision to move Ruan Pienaar from scrumhalf to flyhalf – especially in the wake of the loss of form by regular starter and Sharks-bound Siyabonga Masuku.
After losses to the Lions (26-33) and Sharks (23-35) – which saw them concede the top spot to the Sharks – the coach moved Pienaar to the No.10 jersey.
The change was immediate – a 29-all draw with Griquas and this past weekend’s impressive (29-14) win over the Pumas in Nelspruit.
The veteran Springbok’s role in the about-turn can’t be understated.
Pienaar, 39, was the team’s most prolific game-driver – making 21 kicks out-of-hand and 12 passes.
In case you wondered if Pienaar was merely a ‘pivotal link’, he also made 10 tackles – only topped by teammate Gideon van der Merwe’s 13 – and he missed just one tackle.
He only had five carries, but it was his decision-making that most impressed the coach.
(Hawies Fourie speaks about the Frans Steyn injury …)
“I have thought a lot about it [moving Pienaar to flyhalf], since our loss to the Sharks in the rain,” he said of the Round 11 failure last month.
The coach revealed that the ”epiphany’ came to him during a long road trip back from attending his father’s 80th birthday in the Western Cape.
“I was travelling back with my son from Riversdal to Bloemfontein, a nine-hour drive,” Fourie told @rugby365com.
“Somewhere between Graaff Reinet and Colesberg, I made up my mind to move Ruan [Pienaar] to flyhalf and stick with that decision.”
He said the decision to move the veteran from No.9 to No.10 was to have someone making good decisions at flyhalf.
“We needed someone who could give the team direction,” he told @rugby365com, adding: “Someone who can execute the right plays at the right time and has a good kicking game.
“Those are the things we missed.
“With Frans [Steyn] being injured and Siyamthanda [Masuku] who went off the boil our kicking game suffered.”
Fourie added the value Pienaar brings to the team was evident in the win over the Pumas in Nelspruit.
“We saw how Ruan managed the game with his kicking – when to go [kick] long and when to go in the air.
“He had one bad kick the entire match.
“That was the difference and the rest of our game fell into place.”
The Cheetahs coach said Pienaar was a ‘special’ person and a very special player.
“I was hesitant to move him away from No.9, because his kicking game from the base is just as impressive.
“However, we just made too many mistakes at flyhalf, made the wrong calls and did not stick to the game plan.
“With Ruan at No.10 the players will listen to him and the correct calls will be made.
“No doubt it was a turning point in our season.”
Apart from his 88 Test caps for South Africa, Pienaar also has more than 300 first-class games to his credit – between the Sharks, Ulster, Montpellier and the Cheetahs.
* Picture credit: Johan Orton