Pienaar surprised by 'negative' IRFU response to his wish to stay
Ulster's Ruan Pienaar has admitted that being forced to uproot his young family has made the IRFU's decision to end his time in Belfast all the more difficult to stomach.
The South African star has been a hero to the Ulster faithful since his arrival at Kingspan Stadium back in 2010 and, especially after rejecting a big money move to then European champions Toulon to stay three years ago, had expected to see out his career here.
After expressing his desire for a new deal following last season's Guinness Pro12 semi-final defeat to Leinster in May, the IRFU, however, swiftly ended such hopes thanks to concerns over a lack of emerging indigenous talent at Pienaar's scrum-half position. The 32-year-old's initial reaction was one of disbelief.
"Because I was here for so long I think some people might have thought this would never happen," he said at the launch of BT's Speed Test in Belfast. "That was certainly the case for me. I didn't think it would be a problem because this has been home to me for six years.
"I went to Bryn (Cunningham, Ulster operations director) after the semi-final 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 I'd be able to stay but it's in the past now. I have to focus on performing well.
"There's some cases that might be in the same boat soon so we'll see what happens if they stick to this rule. If they do, then that's fair play. I can understand where they're coming from as well so I have to respect that and move on. It's sad that this will be my last season but I want to enjoy the last couple of months that I have left."