Sat, 21 Sep 2019

Cape Town - When the Springboks take on the All Blacks in Yokohama in their 2019 Rugby World Cup opener on September 21, Ruan Pienaar will be at home in Bloemfontein watching on the couch.

"I'm like every other fan in South Africa ... up and down and screaming at the ref and all those things," he told Sport24 on Friday.

Now 35, Pienaar was part of the last successful group of South African World Cup warriors that won the showpiece under Jake White in 2007.

Twelve years later, he is nearing the end of a career that has seen him become one of the most respected players in European rugby this decade following a seven-year career with Ulster from 2010-2017 and then two further years with Montpellier in France from 2017-2019.

With 88 Test matches under his belt, Pienaar and his family took the decision a few months ago to move back to South Africa to finish his career in his hometown of Bloemfontein.

He is currently in the middle of what is shaping to be a successful Currie Cup campaign for the Free State Cheetahs, while he is also set for two years of PRO14 rugby with the Cheetahs.

"We're still living with my parents and we haven't got our own place yet," he laughs.

"Our furniture is still on the way. I think once we've got our own place and we've settled in, everything will feel a little bit more normal."

The decision to move back home was not an easy one, but the opportunity to spend more time with family and close friends is what won Pienaar and his wife, Monique, over.

"We had a good thing going and it was a really tough decision, but at the end of the day time with family is something you can't get back. The kids are still at the age where we could give it a go and it's been good so far."

Watching a World Cup from home will be a strange experience for Pienaar, who has played in all of the last three editions dating back to 2007.

He has seen just about all there is to see when it comes to international rugby, but he was done by the time the wheels came off under former coach Allister Coetzee in 2016 and 2017.

Since then, however, the Boks have found their feet once more and they are now considered one of the few nations who can go toe-to-toe with the All Blacks and challenge for the 2019 World Cup.

"It is an open race and there are five or six teams that have put their hand up over the last two years and showed that they can maybe go all the way," Pienaar said.

"I think a lot of people lost a bit of hope a few years ago, but that's sport and you get your ups and downs.

"It's given the nation a bit of hope. Everyone speaks about the Springboks on a Monday morning and I think the people are quite optimistic about their chances going into this World Cup.

"That's great and it's what rugby in South Africa needs. I think the guys have really stood up and got the rugby world noticing them again."

Pienaar firmly believes the Boks are in with a shout in Japan, and he would love to see them lift the trophy on November 2.

"That's the ultimate goal to achieve as a rugby player," he added.

"To be part of a group that managed to win it is obviously very special. It's only an elite few that can say they're world champions.

"I'm very proud to say that I've been a part of that group."

Before he can put his feet up and back the Boks, though, Pienaar must focus on the Free State Cheetahs and helping them win a sixth Currie Cup title.

That is also a tournament that he has won before, having triumphed with the Sharks in 2008.

"The Currie Cup is probably the top provincial trophy to play for in world rugby, so I've always enjoyed it," he said.

"It's a younger team and I'm a bit older, so the body is a bit sore, but they've kept me going.

"The quality has been good, and some great tries have been scored and every year talents are spotted through the Currie Cup. I've really enjoyed it and it's been a lot of fun so far."

Pienaar has been named in the starting line-up for Saturday's clash against Western Province.

Teams:

Free State

15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 Darren Adonis, 13 Benhard Janse van Rensburg, 12 William Small-Smith, 11 Tian Meyer (captain ), 10 Tian Schoeman, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Henco Venter, 7 Abongile Nonkontwana, 6 Junior Pokomela, 5 Walt Steenkamp, 4 Sintu Manjesi, 3 Boan Venter, 2 Joseph Dweba, 1 Schalk van der Merwe

Substitutes: 16 Jacques du Toit, 17 Ox Nche, 18 Aranos Coetzee, 19 JP du Preez, 20 Gerhard Olivier, 21 Jasper Wiese, 22 Dries Swanepoel /Dian Badenhorst, 22 Louis Fouche

Western Province

15 Dillyn Leyds, 14 Sergeal Petersen, 13 Ruhan Nel, 12 Rikus Pretorius, 11 SP Marais, 10 Damian Willemse, 9 Justin Phillips, 8 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 7 JD Schickerling, 6 Ernst van Rhyn, 5 Chris van Zyl, 4 Salmaan Moerat, 3 Wilco Louw, 2 Scarra Ntubeni, 1 Corne Fourie

Substitutes: 16 Chad Solomon, 17 Kwenzo Blose, 18 Neethling Fouche, 19 Nama Xaba, 20 Juarno Augustus, 21 Paul de Wet, 22 Jean-Luc du Plessis, 23 Seabelo Senatla

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