It looks like an argument that nobody is going to win as Ulster’s South African scrum-half Ruan Pienaar is being forced to leave a city he adores, wants to live in, and, oh yes, play a bit of rugby, a game he’s pretty handy at.
The quietly-spoken Pienaar, who has made 118 appearances for Ulster, was also exceptionally keen to help bring to fruition a useful conveyor belt of talent, and saw a future as a possible coach.
But alas, the possibility of settling down permanently in Northern Ireland has been black-balled by the IRFU’s performance director David Nucifora.
Born in Bloemfontein, Pienaar made no bones about the fact he wanted to remain.
“I wanted to stay and I know that Ulster Rugby did everything it could to keep me in Belfast,” said Pienaar, who was quick to point out he was not moving on for a new adventure or for financial reasons.
“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.
“It is sad that this will be my last season as an Ulster player but I will be doing everything to ensure we make it a successful campaign.”
The decision to deny him another contract was made months ago and there has been no change of stance since due to the IRFU’s “succession policy”.
This policy restricts non-Irish qualified players to one player per field position across the provinces (bar Connacht, who ironically won the Pro12 last season). That hopefully converts into a minimum of two Irish-qualified players per position playing for the so-called ‘stronger’ provinces, Munster, Leinster, and Ulster.
Pienaar, the 32-year-old, 88-times capped Springbok is now being asked to leave Ulster when his contract runs out at the end of June. Three years ago, he shunned approaches from a number of English Premiership and French clubs, in particular European Cup kingpins Toulon.
But it is well known that Ulster’s director of rugby Les Kiss and operations manager Bryn Cunningham were extremely keen to give him a further extension to remain in Belfast, where he lives with his wife Monique and daughter Lemay.
An Ulster Rugby statement indicated both the club and the player were very keen to extend his contract.
“Operations director Bryn Cunningham and director of rugby Les Kiss have been working with the IRFU over the past six months to reach a desirable outcome. Unfortunately, a contract extension was not possible due to the IRFU’s succession policy,” read the statement.
In response, Nucifora said: “The IRFU had informed Ulster Rugby during the 2015-16 season that it would not sanction a further extension” of Pienaar’s contract. The IRFU recognises the contribution that Ruan Pienaar has made to Ulster Rugby over the seven-year period he will have been with the club.
“It is vital for both Ulster and Irish rugby that the province develop indigenous talent in this position and an extension of Ruan’s contract would further prevent Irish qualified Ulster players from maximising their developmental potential and becoming stars for both Ulster and Ireland.”
Kiss, whose relationship with the IRFU could now be a little tetchy, praised Ruan’s contribution to the club.
“Ruan has been an outstanding servant to Ulster Rugby over the past six years and he will be a huge loss for us next season,” he said.
“For me, he is a fantastic player, but he is an even better person, who is much-loved by his team-mates, the staff and management, and the wider rugby community here in Ulster.
“His influence within the squad, both on and off the field, is truly remarkable, whether that is through match-winning contributions, or mentoring the promising players coming through our pathway.
“Indeed, he has played a big part in helping us to develop a large group of talented young backline players who have gone on to represent Ireland in recent years.
“He is a consummate professional and I have absolutely no doubt he will give everything to the Ulster cause for the rest of the season.
“Our hope is that he will one day return to the province to continue to have a positive impact on rugby in Ulster.”
Meanwhile, Ulster has signed Georgia prop, Anton Peikrishvili on a short-term contract until 19th December due to an injury crisis at tight-head prop.
Peikrishvili has played club rugby in France since the 2007/08 season, having represented Agen, Castres, Brive and Bayonne. Between 2010 and 2014 he was a key member of Castres’ Heineken Cup squad, starting 12 games in the competition during that period.
He made his Test debut for Georgia back in 2008 and he has gone on to earn a total of 23 international caps.
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