IT WAS INTERESTING to note Ruan Pienaar’s assumption of place-kicking duties for Ulster in the 29-19 win over Munster last night, particularly with the Heineken Cup visit of Montpellier to come on Friday.
The South African performed the task in consummate fashion, missing just one of eight kicks at goal as part of a man of the match display. The distance Pienaar can slot penalties from is obviously an attractive feature, but Paddy Jackson had been in solid goal-kicking form up until now.
The 21-year-old made a poor start to the season with his dead-ball efforts, but gradually improved, and kicked competently against Leicester and Treviso [twice] in Europe in 2013. However, the impression is that Pienaar has the mental edge required in the decisive Heineken Cup clashes.
Here’s how Ulster head coach Mark Anscombe explained the decision to hand the scrum-half the place-kicking duties last night:
It’s a tough call. I really felt for Jacko when I had to tell him what we’re doing, because he’s a great kid and a man who’s going to do a lot of goal-kicking for Ulster in the future. So it was tough, but sometimes you’ve got to make those calls.
“The thing that leads us to Ruan at the moment – and I’m saying the moment – is that he’s got that ability to kick that ’55 metre plus’ kick. Sometimes you need that, and it’s a hard ask if it’s just one out of the bag.
“But if you’re the kicker, and you’ve been doing the kicking, you’ve got the confidence and you know you’re in the rhythm. That’s what really, at this stage, is leading us to Ruan.”
Pienaar himself was pleased to be the man entrusted from the tee: “It was nice to get a start with kicking again, it’s something I enjoy. Jacko’s been fantastic this season. We push each other hard in training every week – it was nice to get some points on the board again.”
Would you like to see Pienaar continue for the Heineken Cup clashes against Montpellier and Leicester, or should Anscombe give Jackson a major confidence boost by backing the young out-half?