Leinster v Ulster: Ruan Pienaar is keen to stay on as Les Kiss' praise rings out
As he prepares to win his 100th Ulster cap against Leinster tonight, Ruan Pienaar has reiterated that he would like to stay with the province beyond the end of his current deal next summer.
The star scrum-half, fresh from finishing third at the World Cup with South Africa, signed a contract extension two years ago despite interest from Toulon and has again said that not only does he hold no regrets over turning down the European champions but that he still sees his long-term future in Belfast.
After first mooting the idea two weeks ago, 31-year-old Pienaar said: "If Ulster thought I was still good enough and wanted to extend my contract, I would consider it. I'd need to feel I was still playing well and adding value.
"I do not regret turning down Toulon. Staying with Ulster was a decision I made with my heart.
"I didn't want to break something that was special to me.
"It might have been nice playing with some of the world's best players at Toulon but Ulster was somewhere I felt I really needed to be at this stage of my career."
Pienaar's Director of Rugby Les Kiss hailed Ulster's latest centurion as one of Irish rugby's greatest ever imports.
Kiss said: "He's up there with the best, without a doubt.
"With what he's delivered for three or four years now, he's a quality half-back but a quality clubman too. You can see he's well liked, he's respected what this place means.
"I'd say the same of all our non-Irish qualified guys.
"They respect the environment, they respect what it stands for and Ruan is a top bloke in that respect but also a pretty good footballer too."
While the opportunity to work with the Bloemfontein native has only presented itself in recent weeks - Pienaar was injured during the Australian's initial stint at the Kingspan Stadium last season - the former Ireland assistant coach had long known of his qualities.
"I've been very impressed," he added. "I knew Ruan a little bit when I worked in South Africa, I knew his dad. Around 2001, I knew what talent he had as a youngster.
"Getting to know him now that little bit more intimately, and him obviously getting to know me as well and my style, he's a big game player.
"The more time he gets with the boys, he'll improve, as will Rory (Scholes) and Hendy (Iain Henderson)."
A special occasion for Pienaar but a huge game in the context of Ulster's season, Kiss is sure that both sides will take the field in Dublin with a point to prove.
While Ulster's Champions Cup campaign began with the sizeable setback of a home defeat to Saracens last Friday night, Leinster are as good as out after losses to Wasps and Bath ahead of a double-header with Toulon.
"Like any good team, they're a wounded animal and willing to fight out of that corner," added Kiss. "On their home patch, it's a massive challenge.
"Both teams know each other well. You can't hide from the amount of internationals throughout that pack. We have to be at our best to manage that, gain parity with it and get on top of it.
"I back our guys to respond. We've ascertained where we need to respond but in terms of a team and an organisation.
"We need to put ourselves in a place where we can smile at the end of the game rather than be pretty angry.
"They're really good footballers. They're a really good team.
"We've got good footballers and a good team. We didn't deliver last week, we need to respond in a fashion that we can be proud of.
"We need to have a positive mindset to put something out there that is consistently better.
"The Saracens game wasn't all doom and gloom, given the job Mark (McCall) has done. We've got to step forward."