It won’t be just the Ulster fans and players who will miss Ruan Pienaar when the Springbok leaves Ulster this summer, believes Leinster scrum-half Luke McGrath.
The South African legend will play his last game for the province on Saturday, when Leinster visit Belfast for the final game of the Guinness PRO12 regular season.
With Ulster out of the running for a playoff position, it brings an unceremonious end to the Irish leg of the 33-year-old’s career. Pienaar, who was part of South Africa’s 2007 Rugby World Cup winning team, was one of the most talented players ever to play in Ireland, and had hoped to extend his seven-year stay in Belfast. But the IRFU’s policy of prioritising Ireland-qualified players led to them rejecting Ulster’s request to re-sign the talismanic figure.
It’s bad news for Les Kiss, but McGrath says it’s bad news for the rest of Irish rugby, too. “He has had such a massive influence for Ulster rugby, definitely, even Irish rugby,” McGrath said.
“When you go up against these players, you have to lift your game. He was man of the match in this game last year. He was almost unstoppable.” McGrath was part of the Leinster team dismantled by Ulster in this fixture 13 months ago, when Les Kiss’s men won 30-6.
“It seemed Ruan couldn’t pick a wrong option in the first 20 minutes,” McGrath said.
“He always looks like he has so much time on the ball. You learn small things playing with great players, no more than playing against them.
“Ruan Pienaar taught us a massive lesson. He is a world-class player, one of the best I’ve ever played against for sure. It would be great to go against him one last time.”
McGrath has been centrally involved in Leinster’s rejuvenation, making 19 starts this season including starting all the province’s Champions Cup games right up to the semi-final defeat to Clermont.
He also won his first two Ireland caps over the season, and his growth was rewarded with the Leinster Players’ Player of the Year award on Saturday.
McGrath is almost certain to add to his Ireland caps when Joe Schmidt takes his squad to the US and Japan next month, when Conor Murray will be in New Zealand on Lions duty. “It would be an exciting tour to go on,” McGrath said. “With Conor away, it is a big opportunity for the scrum-halves who go.”
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