Pienaar reports renew fears of exodus to France
RUAN PIENAAR looks set to be the first Irish-based player to sign for a Top 14 club this season after reports in the French media said he had accepted a two-year deal at big-spending Toulon.
The news comes amid fears of an exodus of top Irish talent to France at the end of this season, with the European champions among a host of mega-rich clubs looking to exploit the uncertainty surrounding the Heineken Cup and tie up deals for the best players in the Pro12.
Jamie Heaslip and Sean O'Brien are among the big names being targeted by the French this season and the departure of Pienaar is another sign of the weight the Gallic clubs carry in the transfer market after Jonny Sexton's move to Racing Metro last season.
Ulster were last night remaining tight-lipped on the move and the player himself is currently with the South Africa squad as they prepare for next week's Rugby Championship clash with Australia in Cape Town.
Pienaar has been a crucial member of the Ulster team since joining in the summer of 2010 and played a key role in their European revival.
The 29-year-old would be joining a growing South African community at Toulon, with Bryan Habana, Bakkies Botha and Juan Smith among the large contingent at the European champions.
Meanwhile, Gloucester's miserable start to the new season has been compounded by a lengthy ban for their England Saxons prop Nick Wood.
Wood has been handed an eight-week suspension by a three-man disciplinary panel after being sent off in the second minute of last Sunday's Premiership clash against Saracens for stamping on opposition flanker Jacques Burger's head.
Wood (30), who apologised to Namibia international Burger after the incident, will miss five Premiership matches and two Heineken Cup pool fixtures.