| 6.3°C Belfast

Ruan Pienaar hopes to say cheers to Ulster return

Ulster's Ruan Pienaar revealed yesterday that he hopes to make his return to action in the European Champions Cup contest with Scarlets next weekend.

The influential scrum-half has been on the sidelines since suffering a knee ligament strain at the start of September when representing his native South Africa against New Zealand in the Rugby Championship.

The injury was originally expected to keep him out for only four to six weeks but he has yet to feature for the province during this campaign and also missed his country's winter tour, which concludes on Saturday.

While his return will not come soon enough for tomorrow's visit to Munster, on the prospect of proving his fitness in time for the crucial December 6 visit of Scarlets, he said: "I hope so. It's been a long time with it but we're hopeful.

"I've been back running again at least, changing direction and stuff, and I tried kicking a bit yesterday so that's improved. I think that's going to be one of the deciding factors.

"It's just good to be out training with the guys again and hopefully to get back as soon as possible.

"I still need to do a couple of fitness tests and things but the leg is feeling strong."

Given his international commitments, the 80-times capped 30-year-old is used to playing rugby virtually 12 months of the year but, rather than think the injury has granted him an overdue break, it has been a frustrating period for the usually even-keeled South African.

"It was disappointing for me to be coming back but not playing as obviously you want to be involved, adding to the club and to the season," said the former Natal Shark.

"It's tough watching from the sidelines so I just can't wait to get back to 100% and to get out there."

Head coach Neil Doak spoke last week of waiting for the "cavalry" to arrive but Pienaar thinks those taking the field have performed admirably without him and his fellow absent stars.

Paul Marshall has filled the number nine jersey while the likes of Alan O'Connor, Clive Ross, Sean Reidy and Stuart McCloskey have also been handed more senior action this season than they may have imagined.

Both Iain Henderson and Dan Tuohy have been long-term absentees, with Tuohy also expected back soon, while Andrew Trimble and Paddy Jackson are expected to be out until 2015.

Chris Henry's heart problems are likely to mean he will not play again until next season at the earliest while the likes of Jared Payne and Luke Marshall are also presently unavailable.

"The team has done really well," said Pienaar.

"I think Marshy (Paul Marshall) has played really well and the whole team has too really.

"We had loads of guys away with the Irish team and then a lot of guys injured but I think it just shows the depth we have.

"Lots of good young players have came through and played really well.

"This week will be a tough test for the guys going down to Munster before getting back into the European games."

Pienaar's return to the side may be imminent but, even without rugby of late, he has not been idle and was speaking yesterday at the launch of the Ballybosch wine brand he has founded with his teammate Robbie Diack.

Diack explained: "Myself and Ruan both enjoy and are interested in wine and I've got some family who have a winery in Stellenbosch, my brother and sister-in-law.

"On an away trip to Treviso last year, our flight got delayed and we ended up staying another night.

"Ruan and I got talking then and just decided to see what we could do.

"We came up with the name Ballybosch and from there it's been an exciting couple of months."

Distributed by Direct Wine Shipments in Belfast's Corporation Square, Pienaar has enjoyed the experience of seeing the idea move from idle talk to implementation.

"It all happened quite quickly but to see the bottles on the shelves is amazing.

"The people in Ulster are passionate about their food, their wine and their rugby so we thought it would be great to combine those things in some way.

"It's something that is unique to Ulster and the fans over here.

"Hopefully the supporters will take to and enjoy it."

Should Pienaar make it back for next week, then they will surely be ready to toast his return with a glass or two.

Ruan Pienaar and Robbie Diack will host a wine dinner at James St. South on Tuesday December 2 while the Ballybosch range is now available from Direct Wine Shipments in Belfast.

Belfast Telegraph