Ruan Pienaar praises transformation of Ulster Rugby
Departing Ulster hero Ruan Pienaar has marvelled at how the province has progressed during his time at Kingspan Stadium.
The superstar Springbok, who is currently recovering from minor knee surgery, will leave at the end of the current season after seeing his attempts to extend his stay blocked by the IRFU over concerns about "succession policy" in the scrum-half position.
The 32-year-old has expressed his disappointment over the decision on numerous occasions, highlighting the unlikely love affair he has forged with his adopted home since arriving from South Africa back in 2010.
Initially, however, he admits he was not so convinced.
"It was an interesting move," the 2007 World Cup winner told BT Sport's Rugby Tonight.
"I wasn't sure where Belfast was on the map. I didn't know much about Ulster as a rugby team, whether it was good or not.
"Thankfully a couple of South Africans I played with at the Sharks were there to make the transition a bit easier.
"The first time I drove into what was then called Ravenhill I thought 'what have I got myself into?'
"It was a really old stadium and not the best facilities.
"But to see how it is now, the new stadium,the facilities are second to none and I'm just thankful I could be a part of that process the last couple of years."
And while Pienaar and family will soon be leaving these shores, the former Natal Shark is determined to make the most of his remaining days in an Ulster jersey as he continues to aim for a return to action next month.
"It obviously wasn't in my planning to make a big move at this stage of my career, getting to the end of it.
"I've loved my time with Ulster but you have to respect the decision they've made.
"I've got about six months left and it's about enjoying it as much as I can and playing as well as I can in the last few games I'll have.
"It's been an unbelievable journey. I never thought I would be staying at Ulster for this long.
"The fans, the people, the rugby, it's all been incredible and to see the growth in the club in the last six or seven seasons has been phenomenal."
One man who this week did extend his Ulster stay is Chris Henry, the long-serving flanker who penned a two-year extension on Tuesday.
The Malone man admitted capping off a stellar career with a trophy for his native province remains a huge motivating factor.
"It's nice to have it done and dusted so I can just focus on the rugby now," he said.
"It's nice to be around in my home city for another few years. My family are here and I've always been an Ulsterman.
"Playing for Ulster is all I've ever wanted to do, and the physios and medical know my body inside out too, which is important. I'm not a young man any more at 32.
"I've a lot of goals still to achieve. I'm desperate to win something. I've been saying that for a few years now.
"I think we're moving in the right direction. Ultimately I want to win some trophies. The squad we have, the players in this environment. It would be a real shame if we didn't.
"I have a lot of goals still to achieve and I do think we're moving in the right direction.
"We need to press on and grab it with two hands."