Four years ago, Ruan Pienaar was the Springboks’ starting scrumhalf in their historic World Cup loss to Japan.
It’s fair to say then there’s no player more familiar with the pitfalls of being complacent.
Yet the former 88-Test stalwart steadfastly believes that Rassie Erasmus’ vintage can be fearless at this year’s showpiece tournament.
“The Boks have got nothing to be scared of,” said Pienaar.
“The players should know Rassie believes in them because he’s backed them from last year. They’ve done the job for him, so there’s nothing to be scared of. They must see the next few weeks as an opportunity and they must embrace it. I’m very positive they’ll do well.”
There’s been intense interest in the South Africans since their arrival in Japan two weeks ago, which perhaps has also assisted them in dealing with higher expectations.
“There’s always a lot of pressure on a national team and the expectation for the Boks to do well and win will always be there. South Africans love their national teams and the players there in Japan will feel that pressure, but my message to them would be to go out there and continue with what they’ve done over the last two years,” said Pienaar.
However, the versatile 35-year-old halfback, who recently joined the Cheetahs in what is regarded as somewhat of a coup after almost a decade overseas, still regards Saturday’s opener against the All Blacks in Yokohama as the Boks’ biggest challenge in the tournament.
“Obviously it’s a tough start, but the Boks showed earlier this year in Wellington they can perform and challenge the All Blacks,” said Pienaar.
“Look, we all said the Boks would beat Japan four years ago, and that didn’t happen, so you never know. A World Cup is a different and difficult challenge. There’s lots of pressure and small mistakes can come back to bite you. So, Italy could be a tough one, but Rassie is a clever coach and he would have prepared all the guys already for all the matches.”
Given his reputation as one of South Africa’s most accomplished No 9s ever, it’s only natural to query his thoughts on the Boks depth in the position in 2019.
And, like the majority of other observers, he’s immensely excited by a group of Faf de Klerk, Cobus Reinach and Herschel Jantjies.
“There’s great depth. Cobus is coming off an incredible season with Northampton and his selection is completely justified, while Herschel leapfrogged a lot of guys this year. He wasn’t even mentioned as a World Cup contender at the start of the year. I didn’t even know who he was. But, he’s performed so well.
“Faf is there and he’s played well too, so there’s a good balance at scrumhalf. Everyone brings something different and exciting, which is fantastic, but it’s a tough choice for Rassie to have to make.”