'He’ll be a big loss on and off the field' - Ulster will miss Pienaar

The 33-year-old scrum-half checked out with a classy performance against Leinster.

Murray Kinsella reports from Kingspan Stadium

THE SCENES AFTER the final whistle said it all.

Ruan Pienaar in tears, his family joining him on the pitch, and the Ulster fans standing up noisily to salute a man who has given so much to the province.

Ruan Pienaar Dan Sheridan / INPHO Pienaar was heartbroken at full time yesterday. Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

Many of them won’t be quick in forgiving David Nucifora and the IRFU for their decision not to allow the South African scrum-half to extend his contract in Ulster beyond the summer, and the sight of him in Montpellier colours next season will be tough to take.

Those loyal Ulster supporters stayed inside Kingspan Stadium in their droves long after the end of a 17-13 win over Leinster that saw a poor season end on a positive note, though it was solely to applaud Pienaar.

The 33-year-old has played more than 130 times for the northern province and showed his enduring quality with a superb kick pass to Andrew Trimble for the Ulster wing’s crucial second-half try.

I think on the pitch it’s clear to see how class an operator he is, how he leads the team around the park,” said Ulster centre Luke Marshall afterwards.

“I think off the field as well, he’s the ultimate professional. He’s the one always doing extras. A lot of people will always think that he doesn’t like the gym but he works hard to get stronger.

“Off the pitch, he’s always professional. Rugby aside, he’s an absolute gent, he’s a great friend to everyone in the team and he’ll be a big loss here on and off the field.”

It was an emotional day all round for the province, who have endured seriously frustrating months once again, but it felt right for them to allow those feelings to flood to the surface on this occasion.

Ruan Pienaar with his wife Monique son Jean Luc, daughter Lemay and father Gysie Pienaar Dan Sheridan / INPHO Pienaar with his family after Ulster's win. Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

“We spoke before the game about the contribution that these boys have made, a few probably teared up, and I think that helped us,” said Marshall. “We started well and we were really up for it.

“You have the guys who are moving on, Roger [Wilson] and Ruan, Doakie [Neil Doak] and Clarkie [Allen Clarke], and Ricky Lutton, that’s a big factor too.

“The emotion obviously helped us. The crowd too, a sell-out crowd, I think that’s what drove us over the line.”

It was an ideal goodbye for Pienaar, who was joined by his good friend Johann Muller on a flying visit, but the reality is that Ulster will now look back on a season that is nowhere near the standard they should be hitting.

Director of rugby Les Kiss is hopeful that new coaching signings in Jono Gibbes and Dwayne Peel, as well as playing reinforcements such as Arno Botha, John Cooney and a fit-again Marcel Coetzee, can make a big impact.

He knows more than anyone that another season like this will not be acceptable.

“We’ve got to step up, that’s for sure,” said Kiss. “There’s a good spirit in the team and the boys believe a lot in themselves and what we stand for. We’ve just got to make sure we do the job more often in critical games.

Ruan Pienaar waves goodbye to the Ulster fans after the game Presseye / Darren Kidd/INPHO Ulster have lots of work to do without Pienaar. Presseye / Darren Kidd/INPHO / Darren Kidd/INPHO

“You saw what we did today [against Leinster], things could have been possible. Ultimately, we’re not in the semi-finals and that’s a disappointment, but a lot of things have been good this year.

“Young players have been exposed and I hope we can get a few of those in green jerseys this year. We’ve had three Lions selected, have had six or seven academy boys step up and play for us.

“All those stories are great to have but it’s important we can go a step further next year.”

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