Coach Bell believes Ulster will be at full-strength for Heineken clash
Ulster defence coach Jonathan Bell is confident that Ruan Pienaar will be available for the Heineken Cup quarter-final against Saracens in two and a half weeks time.
The South African scrum-half – arguably Ulster's most influential player – suffered a shoulder injury against Scarlets at the weekend, immediately leading to fears that he would miss that April 5 clash.
But Bell, who has just agreed an Ulster contract extension, was upbeat about the Springbok's (pictured) prospects.
"The medical staff are looking after him," Bell said.
"Whether he's available prior to Saracens remains to be seen.
"He isn't playing this weekend, but worst case scenario is that if he misses the next two he will be available against Saracens.
"He's being well looked after. I've just seen him and he's in there getting treatment all the time. He's in a pretty positive place and the medical staff are pretty confident.
"I don't have a crystal ball but all the feedback is good."
With Stephen Ferris set to build on the 20-minute run he got against the Scarlets, to say nothing of Tommy Bowe having returned in such good form after an absence of three months, Ulster should be able to field a formidable side against Saracens if Bell is right about Pienaar.
"Stevie is the big news at the minute – outside the Six Nations there hasn't been a bigger story. He's like a new signing for us," Bell said.
"Realistically he's been out for 18 months. So you're getting a player who has been thoroughly through the mill and, as a result, now more than ever appreciates what it takes and what it is to be part of this.
"It was close to being lost for him, you know, so he's excited and we're all excited for him.
"He came on last week and immediately you saw the impact he made.
"He's training really well, but from our perspective it's about managing him.
"He hasn't played much rugby in 18 months so we can't just throw him in there.
"The medical staff and the coaching staff must make sure that he's managed progressively.
"I don't think I'm speaking out of turn in saying that there were genuinely big question marks over whether or not he could get back and it tells you a lot about him that he's getting there.
"He has worked incredibly hard despite having had some real down days.
"To come back from injury – and I know about it – is hard because those bad days just keep knocking you down to the point where psychologically you begin to wonder is it worth it?
"He's had to fight through some really dark days and although Jonny Davis has been instrumental in helping him get back to fitness, ultimately it's been down to the player.
"It's great having that support, but in the end it comes down to you having to do it.
"You've got to have the desire to get back, you've got to want it.
"Nobody else can give you that hunger. Bottom line is that it's up to you.
"Stevie has shown that desire and I hope it leads to a really, really successful time for him personally."
Regarding his personal situation in agreeing a contract extension he said: "Obviously I'm delighted. This is a very good place to be at the minute.
"Ulster have come through some pretty dark times in the past, but more recently there has been a gradual upward curve and it's fantastic to be part of an organisation that has real ambition and real drive in wanting success."
But he qualified that by adding: "While I'm excited to be part of that, and although we've been on an upward curve, it has to lead somewhere.
"We want that to be silverware.
"We missed out narrowly last year with the Rabo and we've been close in Europe, so we're a team that is at that level now. And when you get to that level, the expectation grows and grows."