Ulster’s inspirational leader and scrum-half is being forced to leave Belfast at the end of the season as part of Irish chiefs’ policy of developing home-grown talent. The 32-year-old still finds the decision taken by IRFU’s performance director David Nucifora “a tough one to speak about” and hinted he feels hard done by having contributed so much to Ulster and Irish rugby since his arrival in 2010.
“Because I’ve been here for so long it was disappointing that I couldn’t stay,” he said yesterday.
“I think the feedback from the IRFU was fairly negative from the beginning. From there onward I knew it was going to be tough to stay.
“There’s some cases in other unions that might be in the same boat so we’ll see what happens if they stick to this rule.
“If they do, then that’s fair play. I guess there’s not much I can do now.”
Ulster signed two stellar overseas players this season in All Black Charles Piutau and Springbok Marcell Coetzee. While foreign recruits such as South African Zane Kirchner will be waiting to see if he can stay at Leinster, Pienaar hopes other potential arrivals aren’t put off by his enforced departure.
He admitted: “Because I was here for so long I think some people might have thought this would never happen — that was certainly the case for me”.
“I didn’t think it would be a problem because this has been home to me for six years.
“Hopefully this won’t stop other players coming here because Ulster is a great club with great traditions.
“There’s brilliant players and the squad — they are going to do something special in the next few years.
“It’s a great country with great people and hopefully a lot of international players will still choose to come here in the future.”
Pienaar, capped 88 times for South Africa, has chosen to retire from international rugby. Weighing up his next move, he said he has “a couple of options”, with the south of France his likely destination.
“We have a couple months to sort it out and hopefully we’ll make a good decision,” he said.
“For me it’s all about the family and what they’re comfortable with.”
His days as an Ulster rugby player may be numbered, but Pienaar insists he could return in a coaching capacity, with chief executive Shane Logan promising him the door remains open.
“I don’t think I’ll be back here as a player, but hopefully some way.
“The family is happy here in Belfast. If we get an opportunity to come back to Belfast, we’ll definitely look at that. That’s in our plans at the minute. We don’t know what the future holds in the next two or three years but if we get an opportunity we’ll definitely look at coming back here.”
Pienaar is rested this week as PRO12 leaders Ulster visit defending champions Connacht tonight.
Meanwhile, Ulster chiefs confirmed centre Stuart McCloskey has been ruled out for two months with a broken bone in his foot and will miss Ireland’s autumn international series.