Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 19 April 2014

Heineken Cup: Pienaar relishing bid for Euro glory

Ruan Pienaar is determined to put an uneventful World Cup and recent injury behind him to boost Ulster's quest for Heineken Cup success

It's really worked out quite well for him as most of the assembled media have gone straight over to the newly arrived Stefan Terblanche.

Under other circumstances it would have been different as tomorrow night Ruan Pienaar is about to make only his third appearance in an Ulster shirt this season.

Last week he came off the bench for his first involvement since the end of October, thanks to a combination of his rather uneventful World Cup commitments with South Africa and a troublesome hamstring that put him out of action for four games.

The 27-year-old sits in another corner of the room, quietly contented that most of the attention is elsewhere.

Though trotting out sound-bites just isn’t really his thing, when he does speak it is usually direct and to the point.

Right now, he just wants to get playing again but is rightly concerned at his sharpness and match fitness after having only played a smattering of games since the end of last season.

After a largely watching brief at the World Cup, he again ended up observing events shortly after he got back thanks to a hamstring injury he picked up in training the week after turning out for Ulster for the first time this season in the defeat at the Scarlets.

"Coming back (from the World Cup) I was really excited," Pienaar says.

"I had played in the Scarlets game, which obviously didn’t go very well, but it was still good to be back on the field and then came the injury."

It happened without warning while moving to the next phase in a training game, and the frustration is clearly visible.

"It was in training. I was running to the ruck and I just felt something tweak in my hamstring.

"I’ve never had a hamstring problem before and, well, I was just so very disappointed."

Though he has apparently re-habilitated well, hamstring injuries can also be mentally challenging and Pienaar has been no exception as Ulster’s star performer from last season comes back into the frame again.

"You always think about it (the hamstring) and think ‘what if it happens again’," Pienaar admits.

"But it’s feeling good and I’ve been doing two-and-a-half weeks of running now and getting back to fitness. But there’s still a long way to go as I need to get back playing again and get sharp again."

He got a 17-minute cameo when the Scarlets turned up for last Friday’s return match in the PRO12 and though the excellent Paul Marshall again showed great form with his bursts around the fringes — Marshall set up the play which led to Stephen Ferris’s first try — Pienaar still showed just what he brings to the side in the construction of Ferris’s second and match-winning score.

It was good ball from an Ulster lineout, but the speed and length of Pienaar’s pass to Ian Humphreys was instrumental in creating the time and space for Ferris to do his bone-shuddering work out on the right wing channel.

Still, for all Ferris’s impressive work, it was another fitful performance from Ulster and Pienaar doesn’t dodge the issue when discussing how vital now beating Aironi home and away, and preferably with maximum points, is to Ulster’s bid to stay in the mix in Europe.

"Yes, it’s definitely important for us to get those 10 points," he admits ahead of tomorrow’s Ravenhill leg of the Aironi double-header in the Heineken Cup.

"It’s going to be a big test for us and we need to be mentally ready and definitely more clinical and accurate.

"We just must cut out our mistakes as for us it’s really been our Achilles heel this season.

"We just need to play well as a team and then everything will hopefully look after itself," Pienaar states.

Hopefully is right, as Ulster’s European hopes will still be in shape, or extinguished, depending on the next two games.

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