IRFU come under fire over Pienaar's Ulster exit
Springbok set to leave at end of season
Montpellier are leading the chase to sign Ulster's Ruan Pienaar after the province confirmed that the Springbok star will leave at the end of the season due to the IRFU's succession rules.
The 32-year-old wanted to remain at the Kingspan Stadium and Ulster wanted to keep him, but the union's performance director David Nucifora would not sanction a new deal.
Although Ulster stopped short of directly criticising Nucifora in their statement confirming Pienaar's exit yesterday, they made their displeasure at the IRFU's policy clear as director of rugby Les Kiss conceded his "disappointment" at the decision to end the influential scrum-half's stay after seven seasons. However, the IRFU later released a statement of its own in which Nucifora said the retention of the experienced international would "further prevent Irish-qualified Ulster players from maximising their developmental potential and becoming stars for both Ulster and Ireland".
Ulster are likely to have to replace Pienaar with an Irish-qualified scrum-half, given Leinster have already got a 'special project' player on their books in the same position in New Zealander Jamison Gibson-Park and the union are unlikely to sanction another even though there is a dearth of high-quality Irish-qualified scrum-halves at the current time.
Paul Marshall has provided back-up to Pienaar during his time with Ulster, while Dave Shanahan is next in line.
France looks like the 88-times-capped South African's next destination, with former Springbok coach Jake White the favourite to land his signature for Montpellier.
Both Ulster and Pienaar left the door open for a potential return in a non-playing capacity, but this season will be his last in a white jersey.
"I am not moving on for a new adventure or for financial reasons," he said. "I wanted to stay and I know that Ulster Rugby did everything it could to keep me in Belfast. Ulster is special to me and my family now.
"The club has given me a lot and I'd like to be in a position to give something back in the future if possible."
Ulster were able to add 23-times-capped Georgian prop Anton Peikrishvili to their ranks on a short-term deal yesterday, bringing the number of non-Irish qualified players currently on their books to seven.