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Nucifora's snub of Ruan Pienaar programme was the ultimate insult: Best

 

By Jonathan Bradley

Former Ulster and Ireland flanker Neil Best has slammed the non-appearance of the IRFU's High Performance Director David Nucifora in this week's BBC Northern Ireland documentary on Ruan Pienaar.

According to the broadcaster, the Australian was asked to offer an explanation for the decision not to sanction a final contract extension for Ulster's greatest ever import, only to be told by the IRFU that he "did not have time" to contribute to the show that aired on Monday.

It was, in the words of Best, the "ultimate insult" for an Ulster fan base still devastated by their talisman's forced move to Montpellier.

"The decision to make himself unavailable and the infantile excuse was in my view the ultimate insult to Ulster fans," said Best, who made over 100 appearances for his native province and represented Ireland on 18 occasions.

"We have the best fans anywhere in club rugby and surely they deserve better than this.

"I don't know how broad the opportunity offered by the BBC to participate in the documentary was, but given they are bound by journalistic ethics, I can't imagine they didn't offer to accommodate David at a time when he was less busy."

In the majority, decisions taken by Nucifora that seemed like gambles have paid off.

As he pointed out in his end-of-year media briefing, if Ian Madigan hadn't been allowed to move to Bordeaux-Begles at the end of last season, would Joey Carbery have been handed the same chances for Leinster and Ireland?

Indeed, it was in the same briefing that Nucifora offered the following explanation for the Pienaar decision: "I think it was a fairly clear cut situation. Ruan has been a great servant for Ulster Rugby over seven years.

"Did we think it would be wise for him to stay for nine years? No. That doesn't fit in with any of our plans. His role within Ulster Rugby, he's done a great job, but it's time to move on."

That was back in the autumn though, and much of what has happened since, including the Pienaar family's tearful farewell after the final game of the season, has struck an uncomfortable note.

The subsequent decision to sanction an extension for Leinster's Isa Nacewa, a player of similar standing within his province, raised the ire of Ulster's rugby fraternity even further, with Pienaar himself even admitting he was left to "wonder why (his) case was different".

"It's hard, if not impossible, to see why an argument for Nacewa succeeds when one for Ruan fails," continued Best. "Yet when the BBC provided an opportunity for any credible explanation, Nucifora declined to take it.

"If you have officials taking extremely unpopular decisions, they must at the very least make themselves available and accountable to dispel inevitable accusations of favouritism or bias.

"I believe the policy is flawed and its inconsistent application in the cases of Nacewa and Ruan proves my point."

When it comes to Ulster and the governing body, it has been a contentious period in terms of foreign signings.

It is important to note that Louis Ludik was allowed an additional one-year contract to become Irish-qualified, and Georgian international Anton Peikrishvili was recruited to ease a propping crisis.

That the latter didn't play thanks to injury, allowing Ross Kane to impress, can be seen to strengthen the IRFU's case, but twice in the past 18 months Ulster have had signings blocked.

The Belfast Telegraph understands a sought after lock was not sanctioned last season, while an injury replacement after integral import Marcell Coetzee went down with a season-ending injury in March was also nixed.

The contrast to when Munster, admittedly battling on two fronts thanks to their Champions Cup success, brought in short-term signings in the shape of Springboks Jean Deysel and Jaco Taute raised yet more eyebrows.

"Getting knocked back on the Coetzee replacement clearly made things more difficult for Ulster," reflected Best. "Before the season started it was obvious we needed more than one top-class back-row recruit.

"I will reserve judgment on the fairness of the Coetzee replacement because I don't know which names were put forward, but had we had more go forward in the back row this season it would have made a difference.

"Look at our facilities, our fan base and our quality, our ambition should be to finish top, not scrape fourth place."

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