Ruan Pienaar will make his long-awaited Ulster debut against Glasgow on Friday night at Ravenhill.
As well as being keen to introduce their big-money capture to the Belfast crowd, Ulster want to blood him ahead of the Heineken Cup campaign which will get under way a week later with a home date against Aironi. Ulster will not wait until October 8 to give the 2007 World Cup winner his first game in an Ulster jersey.
His arrival in Belfast refuted those who had dismissed as nonsense suggestions of his defection from Natal Sharks 12 months ahead of a World Cup.
But Ulster’s operations director David Humphreys was the key figure in the talks and negotiations which ultimately persuaded Pienaar of the wisdom of a move the cynics had maintained would never happen.
Humphreys will be a particularly happy man when the Springbok runs out in a white jersey for he knows, better than anybody, just how much this particular signing has cost. He knows, too, that there must be an end product commensurate with the sizeable sum invested in the player.
He is in no doubt, however, that he has recruited a top quality performer who will prove to be very good value for money.
In late May, when he confirmed Pienaar’s signature, Humphreys said: “Bringing Ruan to Ulster is a massive statement of our ambition to be competing with the top teams in the Magners League and the Heineken Cup.
“He is one of the most naturally gifted players in world rugby and having had huge international experience with the Springboks, we believe Ruan will help Ulster achieve success over the next couple of seasons.”
Pienaar’s arrival has not been hitch-free, something which will add spice to his eagerly anticipated debut. Involvement with the Springboks’ Tri Nations squad followed by a shoulder injury sustained whilst on Currie Cup duty with Sharks, delayed his departure from South Africa.
Humphreys put the capture in context by saying: “Ruan is, without doubt, one of the biggest signings made in Ulster rugby's history and I'm confident that he will be a key asset to us.”
On Friday night Ravenhill patrons will get their first glimpse of the man of whom so much is expected.
But neither Pienaar’s Springbok colleague BJ Botha nor new team mate Stephen Ferris will be on the park beside him.
While the good news is that neither has bone damage, it is too early to say when they are likely to be available.