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Ruan Pienaar: Ulster will strive to wipe out silly errors

By Jonathan Bradley

Published 12/01/2016

Starring role: Ruan Pienaar was integral to= Ulster’s fightback against Oyonnax and hailed captain Rory Best’s half-time team talk
Starring role: Ruan Pienaar was integral to= Ulster’s fightback against Oyonnax and hailed captain Rory Best’s half-time team talk

Ulster's Ruan Pienaar will take a seat in the team's video room this morning not quite sure what to make of the footage.

As Les Kiss and his coaches present the review of Sunday's extraordinary comeback win over Oyonnax, it is safe to assume the second half of the session will make for considerably more comfortable viewing.

The province put in one of their worst 40 minutes in recent memory against the side who sit second from bottom in the Top 14 but were transformed in the second-half, scoring 24 unanswered points in a thrilling recovery.

Pienaar, along with Paddy Jackson and Nick Williams, were introduced at the interval and he admits the opening half made for tough viewing.

"If you wanted a game of two halves then that was it," he reflected. "For us, the second-half was a lot of fun, there was a lot of good stuff, but we need to have a good look at the first-half.

"Sat on the bench in the first-half, we weren't great. There were a lot of silly mistakes that gave them possession and tries. We had the ball in their area a few times and lost it. We weren't as organised as we would like to be.

"To come to France again and get a win is pleasing but we are disappointed with how we played for some stretches.

"There's mixed feelings. It was nice to improve and get the win and there was good stuff but more bad stuff.

"I think games like this can build character. Hopefully we can take that and build on it."

Rather than acknowledge his own telling contribution - the scrum-half was imperious in his half of action - Pienaar spoke of the impact made by his captain Rory Best's half-time address.

Having witnessed first-hand all the qualities that make the hooker a stand-out candidate to replace Paul O'Connell as Ireland skipper, the South African World Cup winner views his long-time team-mate as the man for the job.

"I'm biased because he's my captain here but I think he has all the qualities to be Irish captain. Hopefully he has the chance to do it," he said.

"It was harsh words but they were needed. I think everyone responded well. It's great to have his leadership."

All Best's efforts would have counted for nought, however, if not for the 53-metre penalty nailed by Jackson with only minutes remaining.

In years gone by, kicks from such a distance would have been the responsibility of Pienaar but the No.9 was happy to cede the tee.

"I think Paddy has been kicking well, that's why I haven't got a lot of shots myself this season," he laughed. "He's in great form with the boot. He struck it sweetly and it carried well. There was great composure and it shows the way he's playing.

"He was a bit disappointed with a couple of the kicks against Munster last week so to bounce back and make that kick, hats off to him. He's worked hard and I'm very pleased for him."

The relationship between the pair has been central to Ulster's success since the start of December and their link play with centres Luke Marshall and Stuart McCloskey is posing real problems for the opposition.

"We're slowly getting there," said Pienaar. "What's pleasing is we still have Stuart Olding to come back, we still have Jared Payne to get back, Darren Cave too.

"So there's a lot of talent to come back and help keep it up. We're building a nice understanding, Stu and Luke have been sensational. Stuart is massive guy for a 12, he's young and he's powerful.

"Luke is going well at 13 and the two of them have a good understanding. With Jacko running the show, it's good for Irish rugby. There's depth in the centres and I'm pleased they're on our side."

The next test for the re-invigorated back-line comes from Saracens at Allianz Park on Saturday, the side who humbled the province at the Kingspan back in November.

For Pienaar, having resuscitated their bid for a European quarter-final with three straight wins, much has changed since then.

"I think we've put that behind us," he mused. "We've grown since then but they're a difficult team to play against.

"We've done well since that first result. To get two wins over Toulouse and now this against Oyonnax, it means we're alive (in Europe).

"For us it's taking each game as it comes. Saracens is our next challenge. We'll take a good look at them this week, prepare well and hopefully put the performance in.

"There's loads to play for and that'll be the message. Hopefully we respond well and come out fighting hard."

Against a side who have lost only once this season, they'll need to fight from the very start this time.

The state of play so far in Europe...

Pool 1: If Ulster can make it to a Champions Cup quarter-final this season, they will no doubt remember their remarkable turnaround against Oyonnax as one that saved their European campaign but there is still plenty to do for them to be assured of a place in the last eight. Currently on 13 points, even if Ulster beat Saracens on Saturday, they are likely to finish runners-up in their pool and be left sweating over their rivals’ points tallies.

Pool 2: Pro12 rivals Ospreys currently occupy second place but Exeter are far from out of the equation either. A best case scenario for Ulster here would see Clermont beat the Welsh region on Friday night but Steve Tandy’s men bouncing back to take the points at Sandy Park next weekend to leave both sides on the outside looking in.

Pool 3: With Dan Carter pulling the strings, Racing Metro are the runaway leaders having not lost a game and the Parisians will almost certainly finish top. The way Scarlets and Glasgow are performing in the Champions Cup, you would expect Northampton to win both of their remaining games and reach a second place total that could rival Ulster’s.

Pool 4: Les Kiss will be hoping Munster rebound from their limp display against Stade Francais last weekend when the pair meet again at Thomond Park on Saturday. Stade are currently one point ahead of Ulster but with the Sergio Parisse-led champions of France facing pool favourites Leicester the week after, the pressure could be on if they fail to get a result in Limerick.

Pool 5: Three-time winners Toulon face the Wasps of future Ulsterman Charles Piutau on Sunday in a tie that will likely decide who tops the pool and who finishes second. Should the Coventry outfit triumph in the Cote D’Azur, Ulster will be confident of getting a higher total than Toulon but if the megastars prevail, the Kingspan men may need the help of Leinster at the Ricoh Arena next weekend.

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