Saturday 22 October 2016

Ruan Pienaar explains his faith in decision to turn down Toulon move

Jonathan Bradley

Published 13/01/2016 | 02:30

Ruan Pienaar (SPORTSFILE)
Ruan Pienaar (SPORTSFILE)

Ulster rugby star Ruan Pienaar raised a few eyebrows when he turned down a big money offer from Toulon in order to stay in Belfast but the South African had far more than rugby on his mind as he pondered the biggest decision of his career.

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A devout Christian, Pienaar's original choice to move to Northern Ireland was heavily influenced by his religious faith and it was a desire to share his beliefs that saw him turn down the hefty pay-cheque on offer in the south of France.

"I had many offers from different places, France, England, you name it," said Pienaar. "But I have always believed with my Christianity that there's so much more to life than rugby.

"I said to my wife before we came here that we had to be strong in our faith and I believe that God gave me a door to walk through here at Ulster.

"Being here gives me an enormous sense of purpose: I am not just here for rugby, I'm here to touch lives.

"I felt comfortable staying in Belfast and I've never regretted my decision. I felt that the Lord had so much more to show me here and there's so much more that I've got to do in Belfast. It was a huge help in my decision."

Now 31, the 2007 World Cup winner has always had a strong religious conviction but says that his faith has grown and adapted throughout his career.

"Back in South Africa almost everyone grows up within the church," said the player, who is going through the process of acquiring a British passport.

"A normal house in South Africa, they go to church every Sunday. It's something I've grown up with but it's grown stronger as I've gotten older and my perspective on a few things has probably changed.

"It's something that you have to be careful of, there's a very religious way of going about it, but for me it's all about having a personal relationship with God.

"The older I got the more I learnt, the more I realised how important it is in my life. That's part of what I'm trying to put out to people.

"I wouldn't have reached the highs, or gotten through the lows, all through my career if it wasn't for my faith. It's something that I truly believe in."

There is a strong Christian contingent at Ulster - Paul Marshall, Wiehahn Herbst, Andrew Trimble, Nick Williams and Louis Ludik have all been open about their faith.

It is with this attitude in mind that Pienaar has continued his involvement with the organisation Christian Vision for Men and will speak at St Anne's Cathedral on January 25, along with Herbst and Marshall, about his own experiences with the church.

A link originally established by former Ulster captain Johann Muller, the organisation aims to see men become more comfortable discussing religious issues.

"I enjoy it and it's just something to focus on outside of rugby," says the man who has also established a wine brand with team-mate Robbie Diack."

Elsewhere, Northampton have announced that England prop Alex Corbisiero has left the club with immediate effect.

Part of the 2013 Lions team in Australia, the 27-year-old loosehead has endured a debilitating run of injuries.

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