Rugby Union: Pienaar raring to go

David Llewellyn talks to Saracens' latest recruit about his hopes for the future
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The Independent Online
Anyone who thought that Francois Pienaar had joined Saracens because he was looking for a sinecure as he wound down his rugby career should think again. With his Courage League debut put on ice, he spent a large chunk of Saturday - when not taking part in his third training session of the week - signing autographs for the hardy handful who braved the cold and chatting to friends from South Africa.

With the ground deemed too hard for play safely to take place between Saracens and Orrell, Pienaar then had time to set out his goals at the start of the rest of his rugby career.

The former Springbok captain may be stretching credibility and testing Hooke's Law of elasticity when he insists that money was not what brought him to the north London club. He has reputedly signed a deal which should earn him in the region of pounds 500,000 for his two and a bit years in English club rugby.

But there is a steely note of conviction when he says: "I want to play some of the best rugby I've ever played. That is my main aim. I want to get settled into the Saracens side and play a part in helping them to become a successful team."

If his performance last Monday at his first training session is anything to go by then Pienaar has already made great strides into integrating himself with his new club. Mark Evans, Saracens' director of coaching, said: "It's been very hard for him. It was freezing on Monday night so they they did a few line-outs and stuff with Rob [Cunningham]. But straightaway Francois' leadership qualities were evident. He has a lot of presence."

Cunningham, Saracens director of rugby, was clearly impressed with what he saw that first night. "He is very easy to work with," he said. "He's very astute. He picked up everything we were doing very quickly. He got right into the signals and the techniques we were using. By the end he was encouraging the hooker to do things he hadn't done before."

Pienaar, who was appointed captain on his debut in the drawn game against France in February 1993, went on to win 29 caps before being dropped for South Africa's recent tour of Argentina. He still wants to add to them. And he does not feel playing so far from his country's selectors will affect his chances.

"I don't need to play in South Africa. They've seen me play for the last five years. If they are really interested in my form I'm sure they can acquire footage of our games over here. I would love to play for South Africa again."

But he is putting his new life in Europe ahead of it all. After revealing that Nerine, whom he married 10 months ago, had finally persuaded him to join the rest of Nigel Wray's big shots at Saracens, Pienaar said: "We see these next couple of years as an adventure. I have some goals I have set my sights on over here and I will work really hard to achieve them.

"After all, I have more or less done everything I could have done in South Africa."

There are even targets off the field for the highly organised Pienaar, who will be 30 on Thursday. "I want to go to shows and rock concerts, I want to travel around Europe and I want to see some soccer matches. I have my tickets for Arsenal against Middlesbrough on Wednesday," the Manchester United fan said.

But it is on the field that he really wants to perform. He starts with what promises to be a baptism of fire, against Bath on Saturday.