Ulster stand to benefit handsomely from Ruan Pienaar’s disenchantment with South African rugby.
The soon-to-arrive Springbok’s Test career underlines the reason for his frustration — 34 caps, but only 16 of those in games in which he has been a starter.
Closer analysis reveals that just five of those starts were in his preferred position, scrum-half.
Seven have been at fly-half and four at full-back.
While some might view his ability to wear numbers nine, 10 and 15 as an advantage, Pienaar’s belief is that he has been a victim of his own versatility.
“Coaches have been telling me since I was at school that I have all the natural talent in the world, but then they’ve put me on the bench or played me out of position,” he said.
“I’ve often thought, are they just telling me I’m talented to keep me happy? Do they really rate me, if they do, why am I on the bench?” is the rhetorical question he has often asked himself.
Controversial Springboks’ coach Peter de Villiers, who has called Pienaar “by far the most exciting player in South Africa” recently dealt him a blow by saying: “If he wants to play scrum-half (for the Boks) then he must understand he will be fourth in the queue because I believe he is a natural fly-half who can play scrum-half.”
Ulster to the rescue.
Given the current dearth of fly-halves in Ireland, the IRFU wants to see Irish-qualified number 10s playing in that position for the provinces.
Scrum-half, therefore, is where Pienaar will be deployed when he gets here.
His father, Gysie — who made 13 Test appearances as a Springbok — revealed: “I just think Ruan wants to get away from the situation and he knows he’s going to play scrum-half for Ulster.
“I know he’s very excited about how welcome they will make him feel and that means a lot,” he added.
A warm welcome does indeed await him, given the impact of fellow-Boks Johann Muller and Pedrie Wannenburg since joining Ulster in the summer.
Like them, Pienaar highlighted the part played by David Humphreys in his recruitment, Ulster’s Operations Director having beaten several big French clubs to his signature.
“I chatted to him and liked the challenge Ulster will face,” Pienaar said. “They’re not the biggest club, but they have lofty goals.”
Pienaar, who has had rehab since suffering an AC joint injury while playing for Natal Sharks in the Currie Cup in early August, is expected here in the next fortnight and could be in line to make his debut against Connacht in Galway on September 25.
“Many people have asked me, ‘Why (leave South Africa) now? Why just before the World Cup?’
“I’ve sat on the bench for many games and played in many positions and sometimes you get frustrated. Now is my chance to start all over again,” he said.
Meanwhile, Ulster captain Rory Best’s neck injury, which saw him substituted in the second-half against Ospreys on Friday night, has been confirmed as nothing more than slight tissue damage.
It is in no way related to the disc injury which required surgery just over a year ago.