The seasoned Springbok scrumhalf and Rugby World Cup winner, Ruan Pienaar, reported to training at the Toyota Free State Cheetahs on Monday after recently signing a two-year contract with the franchise.
Pienaar and his family arrived in Bloemfontein over the weekend after packing up in Belfast and relocating to the city where he was born and learnt his rugby. Son of the Free State legend and former Springbok, Gysie Pienaar, rugby is in his blood and he is sure to write his own unique chapter in Free State rugby.
Pienaar left Bloemfontein 15 years ago to play his rugby at the Sharks, before joining Ulster in Northern Ireland and making a brief turn at Montpellier in France. Earlier in the year the Pienaar family was struck with tragedy with the untimely death of his sister, René O’Ehley. This played a role in Pienaar and his family returning to South Africa.
During his time in Belfast he played 141 games for Ulster in all competitions, and also captained the side. The 88 Test veteran is widely regarded as a legend at the Kingspan Stadium, and his return to the Cheetahs was met with mixed reaction by fans at his former team.
The versatile backline player looked exceptionally sharp in training on Monday, and there may be a good chance that he will play against the Golden Lions in the Free State Cheetahs’ third game of the Currie Cup.
The Free State captain, Tian Meyer, did not partake in the training on Monday as he was battling with a hamstring niggle. This could open the door Pienaar to play as soon as this week already.
Being a 35-years-old, he was huffing and puffing after the training session, and he told Bloemfontein Courant that the altitude got the better of him, but he will get used to it again, and he is keen to jump right back into action on Friday evening if he is selected to play.
“I believe that Tian will be ready for the weekend. He has two great games against the Blue Bulls and the Griquas.
“I haven’t played rugby since the first weekend in January, but I will be really excited if I get the opportunity to play this weekend, especially where it all started for me.”
The Grey College old boy’s return to Bloemfontein means that his illustrious career has come full circle, and for him it is special to cap off his career at the place where it all started.
“It is special, I know the stadium inside-out. I probably spent a few days a week here when my dad was still a coach here. It has obviously changed a little bit over the years, but I’ve got a lot of fond memories of playing rugby here, or watching special games and Free State or the Cheetahs back then.
“I never thought that I would be back here, but it is great to come back, spend time with family, see familiar faces and play rugby at a province where it all started. I am very excited and although it is still early days, I am sure that I will make some new memories here.”
Franco Smith will be announcing his team for the game against the Golden Lions on Thursday afternoon at 13:00. The match between the Free State Cheetahs and Golden Lions at the Toyota Stadium kicks off at 19:15 on Friday evening. – MORGAN PIEK