His spirit willing and body still strong, veteran skipper Ruan Pienaar is committed to the Free State Cheetahs becoming a force in SA rugby, reports DEVIN HERMANUS.
The 88-Test-capped Springbok, with fellow 2007 World Cup hero Frans Steyn, signed an extension with the Cheetahs on Tuesday – he will turn 39 years old before the end of his new deal in 2023.
Born and raised in Bloemfontein, Pienaar started at the Sharks before joining Irish side Ulster and French outfit Montpellier, and is now set to finish his career where it all started for him at the so-called ‘Bok factory’, Grey College.
Fielding questions from reporters on his age, the seasoned scrumhalf said: “I don’t think I’m the only player who’s done it; Schalk Brits did it … there’s quite a few players in Europe who’ve done it.
“Thankfully, due to the nature of my position, I haven’t taken as much heavy contact as Frans, and haven’t had any real serious injuries in my career.
“So, I’m grateful to still be fit and healthy and able to do what I love for another year.”
The Cheetahs are unbeaten in the Currie Cup after nine wins and assured of a semi-finals berth ahead of Saturday’s clash with Griquas in Kimberley. However, the Cheetahs exploits aren’t held in the same regard as the Stormers, Sharks and Vodacom Bulls’ performances in the inaugural Vodacom United Rugby Championship.
Pienaar wants to change that: “I think we’ve got fresh ideas and with [CEO] Ross van Reenen here, who’s added a lot off the field, I know he’s trying to steer Cheetahs Rugby in the right direction for the foreseeable future.
“We have a talented bunch of players who are young, and we’re still growing as a team. The Currie Cup has gone well so far but there’s a lot of hard work to be done.
“It is exciting to be a part of it and our region needs it – Bloemfontein needs it – and we need the Cheetahs to be playing in a good competition.
“We need the Currie Cup to be a strength in the country because that’s what Free State rugby needs. We need the whole region to support us and watch us and put rugby on the map again in Bloem. We’re trying to build something special.”
Van Reenen, who took office on 1 December 2021, has confirmed negotiations are ongoing to secure international competition for the Cheetahs, while the union looks to the Boks’ Test against Wales on 9 July at Free State Stadium to attract fans.
“Fifty percent of the tickets have been sold. It’s a huge financial injection for the Cheetahs union and might be the catalyst to bring people back to the stadium in the region,” he said.