Pienaar reminds the IRFU of his greatness with Man of the Match display in bonus point Ulster win
Ulster 29 Dragons 8
Published 02/09/2016 | 22:33
Ulster opened their Guinness PRO12 campaign with a maximum point return after slaying the Newport Gwent Dragons with a 29-8 five-try bonus point victory.
Replacement winger Rob Lyttle scored twice for Les Kiss's side, his tries coming in each half and his second securing the bonus, while Jacob Stockdale, Ruan Pienaar and skipper Rob Herring added the others.
And, in the aftermath of this week's controversial announcement of the IRFU's decision to block any further extension of Pienaar's deal beyond this season, the South African produced another hugely impressive display which bagged the man-of-the-match award to huge acclaim from the home crowd after he had scored nine points.
Even though it marked the competitive debut of Charles Piutau, this was Pienaar's night and he made his presence felt on what will now be his last season at Ulster.
The visitors started brightly and Nick Macleod kicked a sixth-minute penalty to open the scoring after Roger Wilson had been penalised, and five minutes later the Dragons grabbed a try after turning over Ulster in midfield.
Macleod cross-kicked for winger Pat Howard who easily beat Clive Ross to the ball and the touchdown in the left corner though Macleod failed to convert.
Rattled, Ulster re-grouped and after turning the ball over in their own half, Pienaar broke clear and his kick through was touched down by Lyttle after Howard over-ran it. Pienaar converted after a lengthy consultation with the TMO had gone Ulster's way.
The hosts got their second four minutes later - and took the lead for the first time - when winger Jacob Stockdale kicked through and collected the ball to touch down in the corner with Pienaar's missed conversion keeping the score 12-8 at the break.
Three minutes after half-time and Pienaar struck again after charging down Carl Meyer's kick to score near the sticks but he failed with the conversion to leave Ulster nine points in front.
The bonus point now looked inevitable and it duly arrived five minutes after the hour.
Franco van der Merwe took an overthrown lineout form the Dragons and when Ulster spun the ball right, Charles Piutau could not wriggle free but gave Lyttle a pass which he gathered before spectacularly diving in at the corner, just avoiding touch.
Again, Pienaar failed to land the difficult conversion but Ulster were home and dry at 22-8.
Herring crossed for the hosts' fifth try off a lineout maul in the 72nd minute which Pienaar converted.