Minister tells of annoyance as rules force out Pienaar
Sports Minister Paul Givan has written to tell Irish Rugby officials of his disappointment at rules that have forced popular Ulster star Ruan Pienaar to quit the club.
The 32-year-old Springbok joined Ulster six years ago and said he was devastated to uproot his young family from Belfast due to the IRFU's succession policy for foreign players.
"Obviously he's been a huge ambassador for the sport in Northern Ireland. The service he's provided has been phenomenal and the people of Northern Ireland hold him dearly in their hearts," Mr Givan told the BBC.
Mr Givan has already discussed the matter in person with senior Irish Rugby officials.
"They explained their policy issues on how foreign players are accommodated within the sport here and obviously they tried to explain that and I made it hugely clear the fans were disappointed that this had come about."
Pienaar is believed to have signed a three year deal with French side Montpellier, but an announcement is yet to be made.
Ulster Rugby chief executive Shane Logan told the BBC professional sport could be cruel, but he hoped to see Pienaar back at the Kingspan some day.
"Well the decision is made and we have to respect that, but I can fully understand the emotions of the supporters and Paul," he said.
"Ruan is an exceptional individual; the fact that he wants to remain here, bring his family up here is a great tribute to the warmth of people and how much he enjoys life here.
"But in professional sport difficult decisions have to be made and we have to respect the decision that has been made and give him the best possible send off this season, and who knows in a couple of years hopefully see him back."
Earlier this month, scrum half Pienaar said: "It's sad that this will be my last season but I want to enjoy the last couple of months that I have left."
Ulster boss Less Kiss hopes Pienaar will be back in action this weekend at the Kingspan Stadium against Exeter.
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