Wednesday 21 February 2018

ULSTER......................... 29 NG DRAGONS............ 8


HE was never likely to give too much away about how he was feeling but, for two brief moments, Ruan Pienaar understandably let the emotion take over.

The first came shortly after half-time when he charged down an attempted clearance to score Ulster's third try of the night. After dotting the ball down, the South African went straight to the rapturous supporters behind the goal line and just had time to touch the badge on his shirt before being mobbed by his team-mates.

All the frustration and disappointment the normally ultra-calm Pienaar was feeling after Ulster had failed to secure a deal extension beyond this season - even though he had probably known for some time that the IRFU was not likely to permit him to stay on - was encapsulated in that moment as the 32-year-old showed what it meant to him to wear the white shirt.

Maybe Pienaar really did lose himself in that moment as he then badly fluffed the attempt to convert his own score, but he can be easily forgiven for that.

And then afterwards, in a BBC Sport NI pitch-side interview following his man of the match award, he explained how tough last week had been when it became publicly known that his time here is now in its final campaign.

"Emotionally, it's been a tough week for me and my family," Pienaar said.

"But it's pleasing to get the win and great to get a reception (from the crowd) like this.

"I have been here for so long. I feel part of the furniture now.

"I love this club. I love this city and all the people here. It (the reception) meant a lot to me.

"For me, it's all about the team and the next 10 months here and just enjoying the time I've got left in the jersey."

So why can't Ulster's greatest ever import stay and finish his career here? Well, to be permitted to keep the Springbok for nearly a decade is not what the IRFU want with indigenous - or at least Irish-qualified - and internationally proven, scrum-halves looking rather thin on the ground behind Conor Murray.

And that's it in a nutshell, the game in Ireland is primarily about the business of supplying the national team, while the IRFU could also argue that Ulster have done rather well out of Pienaar and have recently been permitted to sign big names, and younger overseas players, Charles Piutau and Marcell Coetzee.

And even though the rules regarding Non-Irish Qualified players are, on occasion, bent to benefit the provinces, it's not happening in this particular case regardless of the fact that Pienaar is hardly acting as a block on current young and local talent from starring in international rugby.

Not that such considerations are cutting much ice with Ulster supporters. They want Pienaar to stay, Ulster Rugby clearly want him to stay and he badly wants to stay, but the paymasters of the game here have said no.

Even though this was Piutau's competitive debut, it was Pienaar who lit up the night - though Ulster's hard-working forwards must also take a bow - as the province recovered from a wobbly opening to secure a bonus point in their five-try victory over Dragons.

Pienaar's break and deftly weighted kick helped Rob Lyttle score Ulster's first try of the night and settle their nerves after going 8-0 down early on. The scrum-half's conversion cut the Dragons' lead to a point and, as it happened, the visitors never scored again.

Rising star Lyttle ended up scoring twice with Jacob Stockdale and Pienaar also crossing the line. Skipper Rob Herring rounded it all off.

The only black marks on the night were the injuries to Craig Gilroy (suspected concussion) and Paul Marshall (ribs) which look odds-on to rule them out of the next game at Treviso on Saturday.

Departing Pienaar humbled by roaring Kingspan reception after inspiring Ulster to opening win

Belfast Telegraph

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