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Ruan Pienaar: I'm jealous Nacewa is getting to stay

Pienaar admits IRFU decision in Leinster's favour has raised eyebrows

By Jonathan Bradley

For the moment, all Ruan Pienaar is able to tell us of his next destination is that the weather will be better than it is in Belfast.

Not that it was a requirement, more just a happy coincidence.

"At my age you just want to get a decent job somewhere, someone to give you that opportunity to keep doing what you love," said the departing Ulster hero with typical modesty.

For many, it still seems strange it's all come to this.

There is still a sense of disbelief among the Ulster faithful that their star player wants to stay, is wanted but will not be here in some three months.

An IRFU ruling on succession policy meant the 88-times capped Springbok's career with the province was brought to what two of the three parties involved felt was a premature end.

And the mystery surrounding his next destination - it is believed he will still sign with Montpelier despite his old South Africa coach Jake White having agreed to move on since contact was first made between club and player - has made it difficult for some fans to finally turn the page on the issue.

"I think it's tough because there's a lot of people out there who think there's still a chance that I'll be able to stay," revealed Pienaar. "I got the same question from somebody yesterday asking if there was any chance I would stay or that they would work something out.

"Obviously the decision has been made and I'm definitely leaving. I guess it makes it difficult in that way but I'm sure it will be announced where soon.

"No matter what, this is my last season here, and that's sad, but I want to make the best of what's left."

A controversy that hardly needed any fanning of the flames had a healthy dose of petrol poured on last week with the news that Leinster's Isa Nacewa will spend another year in Dublin.

While there is a real danger in comparing any such situation in Irish Rugby - the two players are both highly valued foreign stars but who play in very different positions for very different set-ups - it was enough to have certain sections of social media up in arms.

And Pienaar, while acknowledging the respect he has for another import who has given every ounce for the cause, admits that he found the situation curious at the very least.

"I did think about it," he said of the respective situations. "What he's brought to Leinster, and how much the fans love him, I respect that decision to have him stay.

"He's been a great servant to Leinster Rugby and he's in great form this season. I'm sure he's very happy and obviously I'm a bit jealous.

"After it, and a few other decisions as well, I suppose there have been a few raised eyebrows and it made me wonder what makes my case different.

"But all in all, you have to respect it and there's nothing that can be done about it now."

One thing Pienaar can still influence is the conclusion of Ulster's PRO12 campaign.

Having undergone knee surgery at the start of 2017, Pienaar has been back in the side for three games - coincidentally, or perhaps not, all wins - and he still harbours hopes of a dream finish to his Ulster career if they can secure their spot in the end-of-season play-offs.

"My objective since coming here was to help the team win something," he said. "We've been close on many occasions and just fallen short.

"We need to win games before we can think about that and not rely on other teams."

And that means beating Zebre this evening (6.05pm kick-off) in a game rearranged after the original fixture was postponed thanks to a frozen pitch.

To do so would put Les Kiss' side back in the play-off positions with five games to play ahead of a one-week break, even if they do have a daunting schedule between now and the finish line, including a final trio of games against the league's current top three.

"We knew how important this block was going to be and this is the last game of it before a little break," Pienaar added. "For a while now it will be one week on, one week off so it's important we carry on that confidence and play well.

"We need to build on what's been done but we (the players) have to take responsibility.

"Coaches can give us as many plays and work-ons as possible during the week but it's up to us when we cross that white line.

"As a squad we know it's going to be tough, the Dragons away is not an easy game, nor Cardiff at home, so it's all the games coming up that are tough.

"First let's focus on Zebre and get the job done.

"We need an 80-minute performance and to get a good a result."

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