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I truly believe I'll be back 'home' in Ulster, says Ruan Pienaar

 

By Jonathan Bradley

It had been the worst kept secret in rugby, but Montpellier have finally announced their capture of Ulster hero Ruan Pienaar, and the scrum-half says he will be out to win trophies in the south of France when he arrives next month.

Pienaar's unwilling exit from these parts was well documented, with the IRFU ruling on "succession policy" leaving him without an Ulster contract after seven years in Belfast.

And with the long-running saga having started at the end of the 2015/16 season, the origins of his deal with Montpellier, who are undertaking something of a spending spree bankrolled by billionaire Mohed Altrad, began almost a year ago.

"I think there was rumours early on, and most people probably knew because these things are normally quite accurate," he said of the long delay between signing his three-year deal and Tuesday's belated official confirmation.

"It was this time last year I was approached by them, after it first looked like I might not be able to stay here. It was a good option.

"Obviously everyone knows I've really enjoyed my time here but we have to look ahead now. We still see this as home and I truly believe we will be back here in a few years, but I've got a big challenge in France now and I really want to perform as well as I can for my new club.

"Rugby gives you opportunities like this to see the world and that's how you need to look at it - as a great opportunity.

"To play rugby in France, it's a tough league and a long season, but it's an exciting challenge. We'll make the most of it and hopefully I can perform well."

When the first contact was made, Pienaar's former Springbok coach Jake White was in charge at the Altrad Stadium, only for it to then be announced that the man who led Pienaar and his team-mates to the 2007 World Cup was to leave before his former scrum-half would arrive.

With ex-Scotland coach Vern Cotter having taken up the reins, Pienaar stressed that the departure of his former coach never led him to second guess the choice.

"I never really spoke to Jake White," he revealed. "It was more dealing with the owner and my agent.

"I wasn't signing because Jake White was there or anything. Vern Cotter has been announced as the coach and I'm looking forward to working with him. He's done really well with Clermont and what he's done with Scotland has been good too. I know he's well respected in France as a coach."

There will, however, still be familiar faces in the new dressing room, just as there were when he landed into Belfast for a first time to be met by Johann Muller.

"It's a challenge with a young family, the language and things, but they've invested well to build a really strong squad, and the south of France is a beautiful part of the world," said the man who is hoping his new side's European date with Leinster will afford him a quick visit home early next season.

"To have a few South Africans that I've played with before, and some I haven't, was a big thing too.

"I've played with the du Plessis brothers before, and my wife knows some of the partners too, so that will help, like it did when we first came here.

"I'm just looking forward to getting there now and getting started, getting to know my team-mates, the club, the area and everything that goes with it."

When his new coach Cotter was in Belfast with the Barbarians earlier this month, he spoke of what Pienaar could bring not only as a player, but as a mentor to the squad's youngsters.

While keen to impart some knowledge to less experienced team-mates, but not yet seeing himself as a grizzled veteran, Pienaar is not moving to the south of France to ease himself into retirement.

"Wherever you go you want to share some of the knowledge and experience you've gained through your career. I'll try and do that as best as I can, even if it might be more difficult being in French.

"But you're never too old to learn new stuff yourself so it's a two way system. I'm still open to that.

"I still want to perform well myself. I'm still competitive and I still want to win trophies, just now it's with Montpellier.

"I still want to grow as a player. I still feel like I've a good few years left and hopefully they are successful ones in France."

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