Pienaar's Saracens debut on ice

David Llewellyn sees the Springbok legend endure a harsh introduction to winter
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In the end it was all a bit of a let-down. True to pre-match hype, Francois Pienaar turned up for his Courage League debut with Saracens. Orrell, their opponents, were also there. In the corporate lounge a troupe of Zulu dancers were strutting their stuff at a lunch attended by South Africa's Deputy High Commissioner and 17 members of staff, as well as a large gathering of Saracen big wigs, all of whom were ready to greet Nelson Mandela's favourite sportsman.

But Pienaar finished up working out in an impromptu training session after the match was called off half an hour before the scheduled kick- off. The ground was deemed too hard, the temperature too low and the consequent risk too high. Referee Tony Spreadbury, having arrived 10 minutes earlier, was in no doubt about what he should do. It left the former Springbok captain as frustrated as the fans who had assembled for the match, some of whom had flown in from South Africa.

Pienaar, who left South Africa in temperatures of 80F to be greeted by freezing conditions on his arrival, said: "I have never seen snow falling before and I have never driven in it so yesterday I left home in Ascot two hours before I needed to to make sure I got to training."

That was only Pienaar's second training session and he was perfectly candid about his physical condition. "I've been training hard in South Africa," said Pienaar, who will turn 30 on Thursday. "You have to play a couple of games to get up to match fitness. And I am telling you now, my match fitness is suspect."

The postponement means Pienaar, who led South Africa in all 29 of his international appearances until he was dropped for his country's recent tour of Argentina, will have the toughest of debuts next Saturday at Bath. "That will be quite a christening," said Pienaar, who revealed that it was Nerine, his wife of 10 months, who persuaded him to accept Saracens' reputed offer of pounds 500,000 for two and a bit seasons with the North London club.

"It wasn't a money issue. It is an adventure to come here and an opportunity. We want to see shows in London, do some travelling in Europe. It's a great opportunity. But leaving South Africa and the family was hard."

He clearly likes what he has seen of Saracens so far. "It was pleasing to come into a professional atmosphere straight away," said the loose forward. "In the two training sessions I have attended, I have been aware of the great team spirit in the club. It still feels like I am an outsider, though. I need to play a game so that the guys know what I can do, and that will let me see what they can do." He will get his chance soon enough.

Saracens were counting the cost of having to call off the game. The special pitch covers that the club purchased looked a trifle expensive at pounds 24,000. It also means they will have to rearrange the fixture on a midweek date, which is likely to cost them in terms of crowd size.

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