Monday 18 February 2019

Pienaar out to haunt old foes

McGrath ready to meet the master

Leinster’s Luke McGrath poses at Leinster Rugby HQ in UCD, Belfield, Dublin. Photo: Sportsfile
Leinster’s Luke McGrath poses at Leinster Rugby HQ in UCD, Belfield, Dublin. Photo: Sportsfile

At last, Montpellier's Ruan Pienaar has around him what he never had at Ulster.

There is a herd of world-class warriors, led by Bismarck du Plessis and Louis Picamoles, preparing to redeem their 57-3 European humiliation last January.

This can mean only bad things for Leinster ahead of the Champions Cup clash at the RDS on Saturday (KO 1.0).

Not only can the French club call on Pienaar's detailed knowledge of Leinster this week, the Springbok will be intent on making up for the many losses suffered in Dublin.

Further to that, there is the personal resentment harboured towards the Irish Rugby Football Union for refusing to allow Pienaar to conclude his playing career in Ulster.

Ruan Pienaar. Photo: Sportsfile
Ruan Pienaar. Photo: Sportsfile

There can be no better way to strike back at the IRFU than by hitting them where it hurts most - in their financial targets.

Knocking Leinster out of Europe would be a serious blow to the province's earning potential this season.

You see, the scrum-half can be to Montpellier what out-half Jonny Wilkinson was to Toulon during their three-year domination of Europe.

The 33-year-old has the game management skills to allow the more mercurial members of Montpellier, like out-half Aaron Cruden, as long as he recovers from a rib injury, and wing Nemani Nadolo to work their wonders.

"He is one of the best scrum-halves I've played against," said Leinster's Luke McGrath.

"Every single time I play against him, I look forward to the challenge.

"You are only going to better yourself against this calibre of player."

The Ireland international went on to break down Pienaar's game.

"He is just so smart and he has played at ten as well. He's got that natural ability.

"His length of pass is good. He always seems to choose the right option - when to run, when not to run.

"Even you see him often now, whenever they get a penalty, he takes a quick one.

"He doesn't even let the wingers get set. He just keeps the momentum rolling.

"The smart little details he does make him one of the best."

The service providers at '9' are more like ships in the night at times for the few times they come across each other over the stretch of 80 minutes.

"You focus on your own game because you don't come into contact too many times," agreed McGrath.

It is in the video analysis room that the 24-year-old has seen the fine details under-scored by composure and class.

"What Ruan does so well is every time he is running to the ruck, he is scanning the backfield because he is such a good kicking option.

"You could be on your halfway line defending him, the next thing you know you are five metres from your own line.

"It is those kinds of things he does so well.

"He is such a world-class player and they have world-class players all over the place."

McGrath has to have a forensic approach to what Pienaar and Montpellier will bring.

Outside of that, there is the battle to be better in order to keep his place at Leinster ahead of Jamison Gibson-Park and make ground on Kieran Marmion and Conor Murray at Ireland.

This is where the struggle comes to square the reason he made the Leinster Academy with the changes he has had to make to his game.

He came as a breaking runner, like Marmion, and is developing into a passer-kicker, like Murray.

"It was something I learned last year. I noticed that," he said.

"Coming up through the Leinster Academy, the running game is what I enjoy. Absolutely.

"I felt that I was doing what I was told rather than trusting my instincts at times. That is something I need to develop more."

There was a moment last Saturday, in the second-half when a 10-metre gap appeared to the left of a ruck inside the '22'.

McGrath received the call to go right and he did as he was ordered.

"It is easier looking back on the Munster game, you can see from all the angles, there are gaps around the ruck.

"It is just something I have to constantly develop," he said.

"Even if there is someone, Johnny, or Ross or Joey screaming at me from the outside, I just to have a go for it.

"And, hopefully, it will be the right option."

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