SCOTLAND coach Andy Robinson has revealed that he tried to sign the Springbok star Ruan Pienaar for Edinburgh long before the scrum-half opted for a move to Ulster.
Pienaar has become one of European rugby’s leading talents and, on Saturday, he will take over from All Blacks’ legend Dan Carter as the man Scotland need to put the shackles on if they are to stop South Africa from emulating New Zealand’s victory.
The 28-year-old from Bloemfontein, the son of former South Africa full-back Gysie Pienaar, joined Ulster in 2010 and has become arguably the most influential player in the RaboDirect PRO12, much to Edinburgh’s and Glasgow’s cost on numerous occasions.
In naming a Scotland side to face the Springboks this weekend, which includes returns for powerful forwards Euan Murray and David Denton, Robinson was asked about Pienaar and said that he had tried to bring him to Scotland.
“He’s a quality player,” said Robinson. “In 2007, I discussed with his agent whether he would come to Edinburgh but it never got any further than that.
“He has played 15, ten, 11 and now is in his best position of nine. He is an absolute gem of a player, well-balanced, and it’s only surprising on this tour that he’s not goal kicking because his goal kicking in the Heineken Cup last year was exemplary.”
But Robinson is confident that Scotland can bounce back from the heavy defeat to New Zealand in the same way they did in 2010, when they responded to a 49-3 loss by recording a stunning 21-17 win against South Africa the following weekend.
Crucial to his hopes is the return of prop Murray as an anchor in the scrum, which is harsh on Geoff Cross, who scored a try in a good display against the All Blacks when Murray was unavailable because his religious beliefs do not allow him to play on Sundays.
Ross Ford, the hooker, also keeps his place despite a below-par performance from the Borderer, which Robinson explained was largely down to Ford’s greater physical strength.
The coach explained: “I was hugely pleased with Geoff Cross’s performance and we’re seeing the improvements that he’s making. I still believe that Euan Murray is our best tighthead prop.
“Euan performed well in the summer and has been playing well at Agen and Geoff will get an opportunity this weekend off the bench, but I see Euan as our best scrummager in a battle with [Gurthrö] Steenkamp that I think is going to be mighty. Geoff will be involved this weekend, and it’s using the two players together.”
On Ford’s selection, he said: “I am giving Ross an opportunity… to show what he can do. Ross was good last week with his carrying and the physicality he brought to the contact area. Where he was disappointed was in his defence and with a couple of throws, but he has to step up this weekend and perform.”
Robinson has stuck with the back row that finished the game against the All Blacks, which means Kelly Brown starts in the unfamiliar position of openside flanker with Denton at No 8 and Alasdair Strokosch still at blindside flanker. Glasgow’s experienced flanker John Barclay comes onto the bench.
“I thought David Denton carried hugely well when he came on and Strokosch and Brown had good performances, in terms of the physicality they brought to the game, and [that] is going to be a huge battleground for us this weekend,” said Robinson.
Prop Allan Jacobsen was withdrawn from the team for “personal reasons”, a mystery that the coach asked the media to refrain from investigating further, so Cross and Kyle Traynor are on the bench, while Dougie Hall’s form with Glasgow this season has earned him the reserve hooker’s spot instead of Scott Lawson.
Glasgow full-back Peter Murchie makes his first appearance in a Scotland
squad, replacing Max Evans on the bench due to the expectation that Scotland will face an aerial bombardment and Murchie has proven himself one of the most skilled catchers and counter-attackers in the Scottish game.
Robinson added: “We are disappointed with what happened last week. There are areas in which we were encouraged by the way that we played and the intensity that we showed, but we dropped off in that 15-minute period before half-time, and we got punished by the very best.
“But one player I want to highlight, who did a lot of unseen work, and I was absolutely delighted with was Greig Laidlaw. When I reviewed the work that he did, everything we discussed with him about what we were looking for him to do, the way he was going to defend and take the line forward, the way he was going to attack the line and where we wanted to play, his restarts… everything that we asked him to do, he went on that pitch and tried to do.
“Now, if we can have all 15, or 23, players with that mindset, to go out and give everything in the way we have discussed, and deliver like that then we’ll win these games. That’s the key element for us. Greig probably went under the radar in the way he performed, but his competitiveness in the third try we scored, his ability as the smallest man in our team to make the tackle, go through the ruck and kick the ball… that competitive edge and instinct is what we’re looking for. We need that going into this game.”
l New Zealand flanker Adam Thomson has been banned for one week for “stamping or trampling” on the head of Scotland’s Alasdair Strokosch.
Thomson will miss the All Blacks’ Test against Italy in Rome this weekend but he will be available for the fixtures against Wales and England.
Thomson was yellow carded for the incident during New Zealand’s 51-22 victory at Murrayfield and then cited for an alleged stamp or trample.
The judicial officer, Jean-Noel Couraud, upheld the citing but deemed the offence to be at the lower end of the scale of International Rugby Board sanctions.