'We'll miss Pienaar but I can see both sides of the story'
Bowe backs Ulster’s young No 9s to fill Springbok legend’s boots
Published 15/09/2016 | 02:30
Ulster have rarely been short of standard-setters, but the recurring problem that they encounter when it matters most is that not enough of their squad meet the expectations that are demanded of them.
Since he rejoined the province four years ago, Tommy Bowe has been one of the main leaders, but the time he spends away with Ireland has left the responsibility with others to ensure that those standards do not drop, during Six Nations periods in particular.
Ruan Pienaar has epitomised that, and no-one up North is underestimating the huge void that the scrum-half will leave behind next season.
The IRFU's succession policy has ruled that Pienaar's contract will not be extended into his eighth season when his deal expires at the end of the campaign, and while the Ulster players are understandably disappointed to be losing their talismanic figure, Bowe can fully understand where the union are coming from.
At 31, Paul Marshall wouldn't appear to be the long-term answer at scrum-half. Dave Shanahan (23) is an Academy graduate but he has seen his path into the first team blocked by Pienaar's consistency and by the fact that the South African is rarely injured.
Angus Lloyd was signed from Trinity College off the back of some fine performances in the All-Ireland League last season but he too is some way from stepping into Pienaar's boots.
In Bowe's eyes and indeed David Nucifora's, those young players must be given an opportunity for the long-term benefit of both Ulster and Irish rugby.
"It's the nature of the beast, we know that that's the sport we play in," Bowe says.
"People miss out on contracts all the time. There's people who get settled and unfortunately have to move on.
"I can see both sides of the story. It's a difficult decision but rugby is a business and these decisions have to be made.
"Until you give young fellas opportunities at the top level, who knows how they are going to go?
"As much as we would love to have Ruan around forever, the decision is made and we've had to move on.
"Hopefully it will create an opportunity for us to bring through a new scrum-half and he can get into the Irish set-up.
"That's the plan. That's what the idea is. There have been people that have come through that might not have had the opportunity."
The signings of Charles Piutau and Marcell Coetzee have raised the already lofty expectations in Ulster, and knowing that they will be without their world class scrum-half next season has added to their desire to end their long wait for a trophy.
For everything that Pienaar has brought to the province, he has yet to win any silverware. Bowe, however, believes that his side now have the squad to finally end their 11-year trophyless drought.
"Ulster have huge hopes and there is a lot of talk about the money coming into the English and French clubs," Bowe says.
"For us, we have Ruan Pienaar in our team. We have been able to sign Charles Piutau. We've Marcell Coetzee. They are three absolute world-class players. We feel we're in a really strong position.
"We're in a position where we can still take on the best teams in Europe. We've a squad that can push all the top teams and we're growing."
The likes of Piutau and Coetzee will be expected to carry the mantle in terms of driving those world-class standards, and while the South African back-row is still a few months away from a return from his ACL injury, behind the scenes Piutau has made an instant impact in Ravenhill.
Piuatu's departure from New Zealand caused plenty of consternation in his homeland and Bowe believes that had he stayed, he would be preparing to face Ireland twice next month.
As it is, the former All Black will be in Belfast for at least the next two years and the impact that he has already had, leaves Bowe with no doubt that he will improve those around him.
"As far as giving tips against the All Blacks, I'd say he'll be loyal to his home team," Bowe smiles.
"He's happy to give us tips and ideas, certain philosophies on play, attacking play, and he's very vocal. He's been brilliant at chatting to young fellas and everyone, what we should be doing, where we can improve.
"He's always looking to attack which I really admire and find very exciting. He's always looking to take people on. He keeps his eyes up to see where mismatches are.
"He had an excellent season for Wasps last year. Everyone has bigged him up and certainly from what I've seen so far, he's someone to be excited about. I'll look to hopefully learn lots from him myself and vice versa. I think there are areas of my game that I can pass on to him."