Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 23 August 2014

Tyrone Howe: Pienaar’s experience will help Ulster’s kids in heat of battle

Another changing-room, which must have seen incredible celebrations, was at Ravenhill on Friday after Ruan Pienaar’s last gasp drop-goal snatched victory for Ulster from the jaws of defeat.

Ravenhill has seen its fair share of drama over the years, but the last ten minutes against the Dragons were extraordinary and right up there with the best.

When you consider the average age of Brian McLaughlin’s young backline, the Dragons provided a real test of character, nerve and rugby under pressure.

It is important to blood new players in order to build a greater depth of ability in the squad and this is one of the most difficult challenges for a coach, as there is an element of gamble attached.

It could not have been better judged. Coming through this experience intact and victorious will do wonders for self-belief and stand Ulster’s young guns in good stead for the future.

However, as Ireland showed, sometimes there is no substitute for experience, and it took the wise head of Ruan Pienaar, to steer Ulster through and ultimately seal the game. We are beginning to see the advantage of having an experienced player who can step into the ten shirt, if and when required.

It is a valuable asset to have. While Pienaar’s best position is still, I believe, at nine, his kicking out of hand and composure in the latter stages of a game are making a real difference to Ulster’s chances of making the play-off stages.

The immediate return of Ulster’s Ireland contingent will have a two-fold effect: it will increase the competition for places and also add to the feel-good factor. Hopefully the combination of the two results last weekend can have a galvanising influence on the outcome this Friday against Glasgow. Ulster are too close now to allow themselves to falter.

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