Ulster's Neil Doak: Provinces just feeders to national system

Ruan Pienaar will be available for his Ulster swansong this Saturday afternoon when the province bring the curtain down on a very disappointing Guinness PRO12 season by welcoming Leinster to the Kingspan Stadium.

Ulster's Neil Doak: Provinces just feeders to national system

Ulster assistant coach Neil Doak, who is also leaving the Ulster professional set-up at the end of the season, revealed that Pienaar will be fit for the dead rubber interprovincial derby following fears his wonderful eight-year reign at Ravenhill had ended due to a back spasm.

The 31-year-old Springbok, who has been one of the most influential Ulster players in the professional era, came off after only eight minutes of last week’s unedifying defeat by Ospreys.

But Doak, who will take charge of Queen’s University Belfast next season, confirmed that the sell-out crowd will get a chance to say goodbye to a player who was forced to leave Ravenhill due to a questionable call from the Dublin hierarchy.

“He should be fine,” said Doak yesterday. “His back went into spasm right at the end of the warm-up (for Ospreys) and he tried to get through it, but you can see quite clearly he was struggling a little bit. He could not get up to full speed.

“With those, 48 hours later it can settle quite quickly. He has not trained these first couple of days this week, so we remain hopeful.”

Asked if Ulster could have done more to to keep a player who loved Belfast and didn’t want to leave, Doak said: “That is well above my pay grade, that is for committees and stuff like that. You have got to remember all the provinces are feeder systems to the national system.

“Ideally Ruan would have loved to have stayed and I am sure Ulster would have loved him to stay, but the things are in place to try and make sure indigenous players are coming through at an accelerated rate. Under that policy they have got to abide by that.”

Doak, though, is disappointed that his 10-year spell in various coaching positions with Ulster did not bring home any silverware.

Ulster need a miracle to progress to the semi-final. A bonus-point win and a turn-around of a 73-point deficit.

“Obviously mathematically it is still there,” said Doak. “We know that Leinster are a pretty decent side and it will be a tough ask so we have to try and make sure we go out and enjoy ourselves and put them under as much pressure as possible. Seventy-three points! It is unrealistic to be able to get that across the line.”

So where did it all go wrong this season?

“A mixture of a few things. Players not being available for large portions of the season. I supposed defensively we were probably leaking a few too many tries. I suppose we have created opportunities, as we always have, but we just have not been clinical or ruthless enough. Mentally we have probably not been on the money.”

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