Pienaar's exit remains baffling to the Ulster players
Delight at Kingspan as Piutau picks up top Pro12 award but...
Ulster centre Luke Marshall has revealed not even his fellow players can understand the decision to force Ruan Pienaar out of Irish rugby.
The Kingspan hero played his last game for the province in Saturday's victory over Leinster and will move to France this summer after the IRFU blocked an attempt to give the South African World Cup winner one last contract extension to allow him and his young family to see out his career in Belfast.
And while Pienaar's tearful farewell weekend will have made for rather uncomfortable viewing for some of the game's decision makers, Marshall told how the Ulster dressing room still find their team-mate's exit mystifying.
"As players we're annoyed," he said.
"We don't understand the decision to be honest. I suppose we can't air our frustrations too much against our employers but I can totally understand the supporters' feelings."
In better news for the Ulster camp last night, Charles Piutau was named Guinness Pro12 Player of the Season at the league's annual awards bash in Dublin.
While Pienaar’s last season ended with the side not challenging for any honours, Marshall recalled how such a scenario was the norm before the former 88-time Springbok was signed in 2010 and believes his impact on those who remain at Ulster has been invaluable.
“When we signed Ruan, you look at where we were then, and the team has lifted.
“You look at how the young guys came on with him. It’s hard to ignore that Paddy Jackson, playing by Ruan’s side, is now a world class out-half.
“Myself, I’m not playing right beside him but he’s had a massive impact on my career and various other guys who are coming through. I think on the pitch it’s clear to see how class an operator he is, how he leads the team around the park.
“I think off the field as well, he’s the ultimate professional, he’s the one always doing extras.
“A lot of people will always think that he doesn’t like the gym but he works hard to get stronger. Off the pitch, he’s always professional.
“Rugby aside, he’s an absolute gent, he’s a great friend to everyone in the team and he’ll be a big loss here, on and off the field.”
In an emotionally-charged day at Kingspan, Pienaar’s fellow departing stalwart Roger Wilson signed off with a try and a man-of-the-match performance, while substitute prop Ricky Lutton and long-serving coaches Allen Clarke and Neil Doak all also finished up their Ulster careers.
Despite there being no league placings on the line, Marshall felt that the determination to see so many old friends off in a fitting fashion was a driving force behind the win.
“We spoke before the game about the contribution that these boys have made, a few probably welled up, and I think that helped us. We started and we were really up for it. It’s good to keep a clear head but in a game like that, the emotion has to drive you.
“Obviously, Ulster v Leinster, for us it doesn’t get any bigger. I suppose we’re driven by a bit of jealously, and obviously this season hasn’t gone the way we wanted and they’re going very strong so that was a huge factor for us.
“You have the guys who are moving on, Roger and Ruan, Doakie and Clarkie, and Ricky Lutton, that’s a big factor too. The emotion obviously helped us. The sell-out crowd, too, helps drive us over the line.
“You see how loyal how those fans are, a dead-rubber game, and it’s still a sell-out crowd. They’re incredible.
“Certainly for me that’s one thing that’s been difficult this season, seeing the supporters frustrated and knowing at times that we let them down.
“That’s not the intention, we’re going 100% each week, but we’re certainly determined to get some silverware for them to reward that loyalty.”