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Ulster will be sorry to see Ruan Pienaar go, but let’s look to future: Rory Best

By Jonathan Bradley

Published 13/09/2016

Getting his kicks: Ulster’s Ruan Pienaar on the way to his 12-point haul in the win against Treviso
Getting his kicks: Ulster’s Ruan Pienaar on the way to his 12-point haul in the win against Treviso

Ulster’s Rory Best says the province have quickly put the furore surrounding Ruan Pienaar’s impending exit behind them as they look to continue their winning start to the Guinness PRO12 when Scarlets visit on Friday night (7.05pm kick-off).

On the eve of the campaign it was revealed that Pienaar, a star attraction in the Kingspan side since arriving in Belfast six years ago, would be forced to find a new employer thanks to an IRFU edict on “succession policy.”

Despite the controversy, the South African has been the team’s standout player so far this season, earning man-of-the-match honours in the opener against Newport Gwent Dragons and scoring a try in the 22-11 win over Treviso on Saturday.

Best, who is yet to play this season due to the IRFU’s Player Management Programme, believes that, in the business of professional sport, teams must move swiftly to eradicate off the field distractions.

“We have to just be focused on the games,” said the Ireland skipper.

“Unfortunately, at the end of the day we know that people come and go.”

Indeed, Best revealed that Ulster’s dressing room quickly found humour in the situation with the next most senior scrum-half, Paul Marshall, taking the brunt.

“It was very quickly after the news had broken, I think it was Trimby (Andrew Trimble) breaking the silence with a dig at Marshy that he was going to have to step up now without Ruan there,” he said.

“That’s the way we deal with stuff like that, you very quickly turn to slagging each other. It’s how we move on, that’s the environment.”

Best admitted to mixed emotions over the news, feeling sadness that Pienaar is just nine months from the exit door but expressing gratitude for everything the import has brought to Ulster Rugby.

“It’s bitterly disappointing for us but we’ve been hugely lucky with Ruan. To get a guy coming in, one who has played almost 90 times for his country, and that wanted to stay for that long doesn’t often happen,” he said.

“A lot of the time, these guys go to the highest bidder whenever their first contract is up. We’ve never been the highest bidder for Ruan, not this time and not the last time either.

“He wanted to stay because he just enjoyed playing for the club so much. At the same time, we’ve re-signed him twice which under most guidelines probably shouldn’t have happened.

“For me, I’ll be really, really sad and sorry to see him go. He’ll be missed as a player and a person but I feel unbelievably privileged to have gotten what will be seven years with him. It could have easily only been three years.”

Ulster are preparing to welcome Scarlets to Kingspan this weekend with the Welsh region having, somewhat surprisingly, taken no points from either of their opening contests.

Ulster meanwhile are only one point shy of a full haul after their two games with Les Kiss acknowledging a slight frustration that they don’t currently boast a perfect record.

“We’re disappointed as a group that we left that point out there,” he said of Saturday’s win at Treviso.

“However we have to give credit where it’s due. Treviso showed last week against Leinster that they’re tough opposition.”

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