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Magners League: Pienaar dreaming of one final flourish


Ruan Pienaar

Ruan Pienaar

Ruan Pienaar

bok star breathing fire as ulster prepare to go into the dragons’ den Tough ask: Ruan Pienaar knows Ulster have it all to do in their bid for a Magners League semi-final spot when they go to Rodney Parade tonightWHEN Ulster’s Director of Rugby David Humphreys succeeded in persuading 2007 World Cup winner Ruan Pienaar to leave his native South Africa and try his luck in the north-east of Ireland it was seen as a major coup.

Humphreys (pictured below) knew exactly what it signified, something he underlined at the time by saying: “Bringing Ruan to Ulster is a massive statement of our ambition to be competing with the top teams in the Magners League and European Rugby Cup.

“He is one of the most naturally-gifted players in world rugby and having had huge experience at international level with the Springboks we believe Ruan will help Ulster achieve success over the next couple of seasons.”

Pienaar’s inclusion in the 2010/11 Magners League Dream Team named at the start of the week not only serves as an endorsement of Humphreys’ ability to land a player of real quality but confirms that the South African has been doing what he was recruited to do.

Typically, the soft-spoken Springbok refuses to view that as a personal accolade. It’s that ‘no I in team’ thing.

“It’s nice to get some recognition like that but it has been a squad effort and a team effort this season and I’m just happy with the way it has gone so far,” he says of the campaign to date.

His addition of the qualifying “so far” is telling. Ulster have won nothing as yet.

So with his first season now nearing an end he is honest in his assessment of the campaign to date, citing highs and lows.

“Obviously it has had its ups and downs and some games didn’t go too well, but I have really enjoyed it.

“They’re a great bunch of guys to play with and we’ve had a lot of fun so I am happy,” he smiles.

Pienaar’s tell-it-like-it-is view of tonight’s Dragons v Ulster clash at Rodney Parade being “they have a lot to gain and we have a lot to lose”, again reminds you of how grounded the 27-year-old is.

“From what I have heard it’s a difficult place to go and play, and when you think back to that first game we had with them we just sneaked a win so this is going to be a big challenge for us.”

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The match to which he refers is Ulster’s 25-23 victory over the Dragons on March 18 at Ravenhill where he played a vital role in keeping Brian McLaughlin’s side in the hunt for a place in the play-offs by kicking two conversions, a penalty and a game-clinching last-second drop goal.

With tonight’s prize being confirmation of inclusion in the Magners League semi-finals, Pienaar leaves one in no doubt that the desire to clinch a place runs deep in the Ulster camp.

“We’re very hungry after that Heineken Cup loss. We’re in with a shout for the Magners so we want to get into the semis and hopefully go further than that, though we know it’s going to be difficult,” he says.

Ulster’s elimination from Europe left them inactive last weekend. As a result they have had a decent break from competitive rugby not having played since April 22 when they beat Connacht 27-16. Pienaar hopes the breather will prove to have been beneficial.

“I think the week off has been good for the team. It gave the minds a break before we got back into the swing of things.

“But we’ve got a big job this weekend and that’s what we’re thinking about now,” he points out.

The fact that while four clubs are in the chase for three places, one point is all Ulster need will not dictate how they go into tonight’s game, however. That is something Pienaar is particularly keen to stress.

“I think we just need to focus on what we need to do and not think about what others are doing.

“A lot of teams still have a chance,” he says. “We can finish second — or we can finish fifth.

“Hopefully we can finish up second but it is going to be tough. It doesn’t have to be pretty. We’re playing for a place in the semi-final so we just need to get the win. Our preparations have gone well, so now we will see how it goes.”

He is very conscious that a slip-up at the death could yet deal Ulster’s ambitions what would be a shattering blow.

“After all the hard work and fighting to stay in the last four it would be very disappointing,” he agrees. “But I think we just need to focus on the positives and have a good 80 minutes.

“We are excited about the game though we know it’s going to be tough. It’s going to take a massive team effort to end up on top but I think that’s what it’s going to take until the end of the season.”