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Pienaar is determined to make Ulster exit on title high

By Jonathan Bradley

Even if the controversy surrounding Ruan Pienaar's Ulster exit shows no signs of abating, the departing star believes it's time to put the IRFU's decision to end his stay in Belfast behind him.

Undoubtedly one of the province's most talented and popular players of the professional era, debate still rages on regarding the revelation at the start of this campaign that the governing body had refused a contract extension for the 32-year-old Springbok.

And while Ulster continue to search for a suitable replacement that will satisfy the IRFU's 'succession policy', the 2007 World Cup winner has already decided on where he will see out his playing career.

Although his new employers have not yet announced the move - it is widely believed that he has joined Montpelier in the Top 14 - Pienaar says he must look forward to the change of surroundings.

"We have to wait for the club to be ready to announce me but I know where we're going and it will be a good challenge," he said. "I think you have to see it as a new challenge.

"I can't be negative because of what's happened here, that I wanted to stay but I can't.

"You have to see the positives. It's a change and sometimes change is good. We'll take the challenge head on and hopefully we'll enjoy it and the family will enjoy it."

Of the greatest concern to Pienaar is how his young family will react to the move. Having moved to Belfast with his wife Monique, the couple have since had two children, Lemay and Jean-Luc, who like their father wanted to stay in Northern Ireland.

"When I came here it was just me and my wife, when you have kids it changes a little," Pienaar said. "You worry about them and how they'll adapt.

"For me and my wife, we'll adapt quickly but the kids are always in the back of your mind. You hope that they settle quickly and I'm sure they will.

"I'm really grateful for the support that me and my family have gotten. Obviously the kids are really sad but it's about enjoying the last couple of months and making the most of it.

"I think when you sit still, you can find yourself thinking about what's ahead and what's coming. I think you just have to clear your mind."

With that in mind, Pienaar, who hopes to have his UK citizenship application completed by the summer, has paid little attention to the case of Jaco Taute but says he would like to see consistency in the IRFU's treatment of foreign imports.

Taute has impressed mightily in recent weeks for Munster, having arrived in September on a short-term deal that is due to expire on January 1.

Despite the impending return to fitness of All Black centre Francis Saili, as well as that of former Ulster player Sam Arnold and a run of form from Rory Scannell that saw him called into the Ireland squad last month, the Thomond Park outfit are thought to be keen to extend the centre's stay.

Such a move would likely keep at least one Irish-qualified talent from seeing game time, the supposed reason for Pienaar's exit, even if Ulster's own South African has been in this part of the world considerably longer.

"To be honest I haven't really heard about it or read anything about it," Pienaar said of the growing case to facilitate Taute's place in Irish rugby.

"From my point of view, although I'm going to leave now, you want to see consistency in the decisions they've made.

"I felt I've been here a long time and given a lot to this club and this province.

"For me, my mind was made up that I wanted to stay here and I wanted to finish my career here and play my last game of rugby here.

"I've a family to think of and this disrupts all of us a little bit but the decision is made and I've got to respect that.

"Hopefully there'll be some consistency going forward."

Pienaar and his province are currently preparing to face Connacht at Kingspan on Friday night, with the first of the festive inter-pros a few days earlier than its usual Boxing Day slot.

And while the five-day turnaround from the Champions Cup loss to Clermont on Sunday is a challenge, Pienaar is at least looking forward to having a more relaxed Christmas Day than usual.

"It's going to be tough," he admitted of the visit from the league champions, who have not won in Belfast since 1960.

"It's a short turnaround and straight into Connacht but the management will have us as fresh as they can over this period. That's the challenge this time of year gives you.

"Us from the south, this is normally our holiday time and we're on the beach but instead we're preparing for games.

"We're all professional, and we'll be as fresh as we can.

"It's a big benefit (not to be playing on Boxing Day). We've no family coming over this year but I think some of the foreign guys will get together and we'll have a big feed.

"We don't normally have the chance to do that so I'm looking forward to it. I prefer this fixture to the previous ones."

While the province fell short in their efforts to send their last great foreign import, Johann Muller, off into the sunset with a trophy, there will be similar determination to see Pienaar's final game in an Ulster jersey be a fitting occasion.

With the clash against Connacht swiftly followed by PRO12 visits to Leinster and Scarlets, before the final two pool games in Europe, the next five weeks will be crucial to how the season pans out for Les Kiss' men.

"I think when we did our planning we knew this was going to be a big period for us," Pienaar reflected. "Hopefully everyone stays fit because there is a lot of rugby and against a lot of quality teams.

"We're looking forward to it. That's why you play, to test yourself against the best.

"My aim when I first signed here was to hopefully win silverware.

"We've been close a couple of times. That's still my aim. That would be the fairytale ending I guess as they say.

"There's still a lot of games to be played and hopefully we will build towards the end of the season and put ourselves in a position to do that. Obviously that would be fantastic."

Meanwhile, Clermont's Etienne Falgoux faces a disciplinary hearing today over an incident that occurred during his side's win over Ulster on Sunday.

The prop is alleged to have made contact with the eye area of Ulster centre Luke Marshall in the 31st minute of the contest, a time when his side led 21-0.

If found guilty of contravening World Rugby Law 10.4 (m), the Frenchman could face a severe sanction with the low entry ban starting point set at 12 weeks.

Marshall was the Ulster player involved in a similar incident back in January that saw Saracens wing Chris Ashton banned for 10 weeks.

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