RaboDirect PRO12: Pienaar is getting all his kicks as Ulster aim high
While Stephen Ferris and Pedrie Wannenburg clearly have an impending tee time on their minds, their team-mate quietly strolls across the car park at their Newforge training ground and drives off hardly noticed by anyone.
Away from the heat of battle, Ruan Pienaar likes to do low profile. He is less comfortable than some of his fellow squad members at just shooting the breeze with strangers or easily stepping into the media spotlight and dealing with all that banal questioning.
On the pitch, well, that’s a whole different thing as Ulster continue to bask in the game-breaking excellence that the World Cup winning Springbok just keeps delivering in this his second season at Ravenhill.
The 28-year-old raised the bar again at Thomond Park for the massive Heineken Cup quarter-final win with some spectacularly long range place-kicking — he kicked 14 points with five from six shots at goal — which is what we’ve come to expect of him in addition to the excellence of his passing and tactical kicking game.
Mind you, it doesn’t always go according to plan as was seen in last Saturday’s PRO12 League defeat at Connacht when another of those long range penalty attempts, early in the second half, was barely in the same postcode as the uprights.
He laughs at the memory and we can easily forgive him his rare lapse, after all he would hardly have been expecting to be sprung from the bench so early in proceedings — if at all — but for Paul Marshall’s arm injury.
“I just felt that I slipped a bit while striding to the ball,” Pienaar recalls of his wayward shot at goal.
“I said to Adam D’Arcy after the game that if he had chased to the corner, you never know, we might have got seven points.”
He quickly returns to the serious side of things again though when addressing the fallout of Ulster’s defeat in Galway — which managed to bring them a losing bonus point to keep them in fifth, a solitary point behind Glasgow — and the all-important win which now simply must be delivered at Ravenhill tomorrow night against Leinster if hopes of a top four League finish are to be realised for the second successive season.
“Yes, now we are under pressure to get through to the play-offs in the Rabo (League),” adds Pienaar. “We’re not sure what team Leinster will send up, they have a massive squad and if they decide to rest some players before their clash against Clermont (Leinster’s Heineken Cup semi-final opponents in Bordeaux the following week) they will still have a quality side.”
Mind you, there is still no hiding from Ulster’s own European semi with Edinburgh and though Pienaar emphasises that the squad are merely focusing on overcoming Leinster — who have already secured a home PRO12 play-off place — next week’s game at Lansdowne Road can’t be completely shaken off.
“We have a big challenge on Friday and hopefully it will be good for us going into the Edinburgh game,” he says.
“We need a good performance and we need to get everybody that was rested last week back in and get some momentum going forward for the semi-final.”
Pienaar stresses the need to bring greater accuracy and physicality to what seems likely to be Ulster’s last appearance at Ravenhill this season as they bid to continue battling for honours on two fronts, an issue that left last Saturday’s weakened Ulster selection looking a bit exposed at the Sportsground.
After all, as Ulster bid to narrow the gap with Heineken Cup holders Leinster, while also distancing themselves a bit more from Munster, they will have to demonstrate that they possess greater strength in depth.
“Leinster and Munster can send down so-called weaker squads to Connacht and still get a result and I think that is something that we really have to strive for,” he adds.
“We went down with a young team and we didn’t quite gel as well as we wanted to.
“We have to be competitive and try to get results (in those situations) and that was what was disappointing about last weekend.”
Still, that was then and now Ulster need to win tomorrow and then, well, do it all again in Europe against Edinburgh before returning to Munster for their final PRO12 regulation fixture ahead of potentially making the PRO12 play-offs, the Heineken Cup final and possibly PRO12 final — and all this on consecutive weeks.
“It is going to be mentality and physical challenging for us to perform every week and still be involved in the Rabo and the Heineken Cup to the end,” he points out.
“It’s going to be a massive challenge but hopefully we can do well.”
It's a huge ask but this is what he's here for.