Former rugby player who captained and played flanker for the South African Springboks national rugby team
Lives of Courage
Francois Pienaar was born on 2 January 1969 in Vereeniging into a working class Afrikaner family. Although he participated in various sporting activities as a youngster he finally focused his interests in rugby where he established himself as a flanker. After completing his secondary education at Witbank, he won an athletic scholarship to Rand Afrikaner University (RAU), now the University of Johannesburg. Pienaar enrolled for Law degree at the university.
As a student, Pienaar interests in rugby grew. He harboured ambitions of playing provincial rugby for Transvaal (now the Golden Lions). With that ambition in mind, he would regularly watch the Transvaal side train and then tomorrow return to put himself through the same paces as the players. In 1989 his ambition was realised when he debuted for the provincial rugby team. He also developed leadership qualities while playing for the provincial team. He featured 100 times for Transvaal and captained the team on 89 occasions.
In 1992 the South African Rugby Football Union (SARFU) was inaugurated after personal intervention from Nelson Mandela. This ended ten years of isolation and subsequently South African rugby team hosted New Zealand and Australia in a test match. The normalisation of rugby relations brought Pienaar closer to his goal of a Springbok cap although, to his disappointment, he was not named as a member of the South African squad that went to England and France at the end of the year.
In spite of the previous year disappointments of missing out in the team that toured to Europe, I993 became a momentous year for Pienaar. He steered the Transvaal team into four victories, namely the first Super-10 (later the Super-12), the Currie Cup, the Lion Cup, and the Night Series. Following the lacklustre performance by the Springbok in international competition in 1992, captain Naas Botha retired. This paved a way for Pienaar to lead the national team. He received a call up from the coach Ian McIntosh and subsequently captained the team for two tests against France in June and July. They drew with the tourists in Durban and lost by one point in Johannesburg. Mixed fortunes continued in Australia as Pienaar and the Springboks triumphed in Sydney but lost the last two tests. His first year as captain ended on a higher note in Buenos Aires when they registered two victories over the Pumas and named world rugby's Captain of the Year by the Australian International Rugby Review.
His success also continued at the provincial level when his provincial team retained Currie Cup title in 1994. In spite of the home test series draw with England and two lose of three games to the All Blacks on their New Zealand tour, the Springboks improved gradually under his captainship. Further wins against Argentina, as well as memorable away defeats of Scotland and Wales, saw the Springboks well-poised for the upcoming Rugby World Cup to be held in South Africa in 1995. Off the field, Rugby World magazine voted Pienaar International Player of the Year in December 1994.
Prior to the 1995 World Cup hosted by South Africa, the Springboks ranked ninth and expected not to threaten the incumbent champions Australia who had not been defeated in the past twelve months. While the 1995 World Cup squad included only one black player, Chester Williams, the Springboks represented what Archbishop Desmond Tutu had famously termed the new Rainbow Nation of South Africa, not just an Afrikaner minority. To emphasise this to his squad, Pienaar took his team-mates to Robben Island prior to the tournament to see the cell in which Nelson Mandela had spent much of his 27-year incarceration.
The Springboks stunned the sceptics by putting a splendid performance during the World Cup tournament. They registered remarkable victories over Australia, Romania, Canada, Western Samoa and France and met their perennial rivals New Zealand in the final at Ellis Park stadium. Pienaar played on in extra-time with a calf strain and the Springboks secured a three-point victory with a drop goal from Joel Stransky to lift the trophy.
During the post-match presentation ceremony, Mandela who also watched the match wearing a Springbok jersey bearing Pienaar's number presented the skipper with the Webb Ellis trophy. Addressing the crowd in his acceptance speech, he made that abundantly clear, stating that his team had won the trophy not for 60 000 fans at Ellis Park but 'for all 43 million South Africans.' A week later, Pienaar again hit the headlines as he led 13 Transvaal players on a strike against the Transvaal Rugby Football Union. Their demands for improved benefits and compensation, as well as a share of the considerable profits being made from what was now only an amateur sport in nominal terms, were not well received. The initial response of SARFU president Dr. Louis Luyt was to fire Pienaar and his fellow strikers. Within days, however, they were granted their demands and reinstated.
Later that month Pienaar had a stand-off with SARFU after he led South African players in threatening to join with their Australia and New Zealand counterparts to play professionally for the World Rugby Corporation (WRC). Pienaar had convinced numerous Springbok players to sign with the WRC, but Luyt eventually dissuaded them from breaking with the SARFU. Subsequently, Springbok players were given contracts and the International Rugby Board (IRB) voted in favour of professionalisation.
In 1995, Pienaar was voted Rugby Personality of the Year by Britain's Rugby Union Writers' Club as well as Newsmaker of the Year in South Africa. The springboks finished off their 1995 year with further three victories over Wales, Italy and, most importantly, England at Twickenham.
His international career ended sadly in 1996 when he was dropped from the squad after being accused of faking an injury by the coach André Markgraaff during the Tri-Nations test matches staged in Newlands stadium, Cape Town.
Markgraaff later lost his job when a tape recording of him making racist remarks surfaced. Luyt offered to overturn Markgraaff's decision, but Pienaar refused. Having won 29 caps, he never represented South Africa again.
Pienaar subsequently left for Britain where he became a player coach for the struggling north London club Saracens. He did a marvellous job while at Saracens. In 1998 they defeated Wasps to win the Tetley's Bitter Cup and finished second in the Zurich Premiership, while the next two seasons saw them secure third and fourth spots, thereby qualifying for the European Cup on consecutive campaigns.
In 2000 Pienaar retired as a player to become Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Saracens. With lucky deserting them in the next two years, Pienaar stepped down as the coach and CEO of the Saracens. Apart from rugby Pienaar co-authored the book Rainbow Warrior with Edward Griffiths in 1999 . He has also been consistently involved in charity work with organisations such as Sargent Cancer Care for Children at the Royal Marsden Hospital, The Children's Haematology and Oncology Clinic (CHOC) and the Reach for a Dream Foundation. In November 2000, he was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Hertfordshire. In the same year he returned to South Africa. Since arriving in South Africa he has been inundated with calls from various companies in order to feature him in advertisement to build up their profiles, as his name is synonymous to success.
In 2002 he returned to Cape Town, South Africa where he currently still live with his wife and two sons, one of whom has Nelson Mandela as a godfather. Pienaar in 2004 was appointed, as the Chief executive Officer of the Rugby World Cup Bid Committee has been tasked with a mammoth task of wooing the international community in granting South Africa the rights of hosting the event in 2011.