The mind games ahead of Saturday’s Currie Cup final came full into play with the Toyota Cheetahs trying to keep their opposition - the Vodacom Bulls - guessing about the status of stalwart Ruan Pienaar.
The 39-year old general is a massive calming force for the Bloemfontein side but missed their 31-27 win over the Bulls last weekend because of a family bereavement.
And while the Cheetahs did well with Siya Masuku scoring an exceptional try and marshalling the team along, coach Hawies Fourie has some decisions to make about where to pick Pienaar, Part of the guessing game is that Pienaar can slot in at 9 or 10, even though he was last used at 10 for the Cheetahs.
The fact that it may be Pienaar’s last game for the franchise he grew up at and where he has settled is being kept quiet by the team, and even he admitted last week that he is getting close to the point of retirement and will make a decision before his contract finishes in October.
But for now, the semifinal is a big game and the Cheetahs want to keep the Bulls guessing, even though it is likely Pienaar will slot in alongside Masuku for the match given the form of both players.
“Ruan would have played last week, if not for his responsibility towards his family,” Fourie explained on Tuesday.
“I believe he will be ready to play this weekend and he will be considered. We can select him at No 9 or 10 and we will make that decision later on in the week when we select a side.
"He had to spend time with his family, look after his children, his wife and everyone else. We respected that and it was the best decision for the team as well. It was big from Ruan to make the call on Thursday, saying that it was better for Siya to know early that he was going to start. I respect him a lot and it is good to have him back for the semifinal.”
Fourie was also at pains to talk about his team’s discipline. While they were facing 14 men at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday, they did concede a massive 15 penalties to the six of the Bulls in the game, even though the Bulls were one man shy after Elrigh Louw’s red card.
“We can’t afford to concede those soft penalties,” Fourie said.
“There will be penalties and mistakes, but it depends on how we react to those that will determine the outcome of the game. Last week, when we conceded penalties, we had to defend our tryline with our lives and we succeeded.
“But this is a new game and we start from scratch. We have to be a lot better.”
Fourie did praise the quality of the domestic competition after topping the log.
“The quality in this Currie Cup has been outstanding. We must give credit to the Griquas and the Pumas — four, five years ago, they were teams which would concede 30, 40 points. Now they are teams that can beat anyone on the day.
“That has improved the quality of the tournament for the better.The Griffons must also get credit. They were never a punching bag and in every match they fought hard.
“At halftime, in many of their matches, they were still in the mix. They were the new team in the competition, and everyone might have thought they would take big losses, but they stood tall to the man and made sure that the competition remained tough.
“The URC teams — after the end of that competition — brought their players into the Cup, and it improved the standard and intensity. I believe we are in a very good space regarding the Currie Cup. The past month’s rugby has been of a high quality.”