Ruan Pienaar hopes his exit doesn't affect Ulster's ability to attract foreign talent
RUAN PIENAAR says he hopes that the IRFU’s decision to force him to leave Ulster in the summer doesn’t put other foreign players off joining the club in future.
It was announced in August that the 32-year-old scrum-half would leave the province at the end of the season, despite the desire of both himself and the club to extend his contract. But the IRFU blocked the move on the grounds that it would “further prevent Irish-qualified Ulster players from maximising their developmental potential and becoming stars for both Ulster and Ireland”.
“Because I was here for so long I think some people might have thought this would never happen. That was certainly the case for me,” he said on Thursday at the launch of the BT Speed Test in Belfast's Victoria Square Shopping Centre.
“I didn't think it would be a problem to stay on because this has been home to me for six years. Hopefully, this won't stop other players coming here because Ulster is a great club with great traditions. There's brilliant players and the squad they are going to do something special in the next few years.
“Hopefully, it'll still be a club that still appeals to players and families to come here and enjoy not only the rugby, but all that Belfast and Northern Ireland has to offer. It's a great country with great people and hopefully a lot of international players will still choose to come here in the future.”
When his exit was announced, the IRFU released a statement saying that they had informed Ulster during the 2015-16 season that they would not be allowed to extend Pienaar’s contract. The South African international, who also says that his international career is over after 88 caps, revealed that the initial feedback Ulster had received from the IRFU left him pessimistic from the beginning of the process.
“I don't think it went far back as last season. I went to Bryn [Cunningham, operations director] after the semi-final with Leinster and it was the first time we really talked about negotiations. I said I would like to stay and I think the feedback from the IRFU was fairly negative from the beginning. From there onward I knew it was going to be tough to stay.
”There were glimpses of hope that maybe I'd be able to stay but it's in the past now. I have to focus on performing well. That's my goal and we'll deal with all this at the end of the season. I can understand where they're coming from as well so I have to respect that I guess and try and move on.”
With his two children having been born in Belfast and his daughter having recently started primary school, Pienaar feels that his family’s roots are now implanted in their adopted city. A move to France has been the most strongly rumoured destination but he feels that, long-term, his future will be back at the Kingspan Stadium.
Ruan Pienaar (and others) in action:
“I mentioned to [Shane Logan, chief executive] that I’d love to come back in and get involved with the club in some way," he said.
“I don’t think I’ll be back here as a player, but hopefully in some way. The family is happy here in Belfast. If we get an opportunity to come back to Belfast, we’ll definitely look at that. That’s in our plans at the minute.
“We don’t know what the future holds in the next two or three years but if we get an opportunity we’ll definitely look at coming back here. Rugby is all I know. My Dad coached and played, and I grew up on the rugby field. I’d like to give something back. I’d like to try and get involved in business outside rugby as well, so we’ll see what happens.”
Those on the verge of leaving have harboured plenty of attention in recent seasons as Ulster try to bridge a decade-long gap back to their last piece of silverware. The chants of “Ruan, Ruan” have reverberated around the Kingspan since the news was announced but while Pienaar admits that the end of the season will be emotional, he is focussed on trying to end what will be an 11-year wait for success for Ulster.
“It's been nice but there's a bigger picture to look at. We have to perform well as a team. This will all blow over at some stage and people will forget about it," he added.
“We're trying to perform well. We've been close in the past. With the squad that we have, hopefully we can do something special this year before I go on my way. That's the main focus, performing well, getting momentum and putting ourselves in a position for silverware.”