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No doubt Springbok will continue to have a big influence: Kiss

By Jonathan Bradley

Ulster Director of Rugby Les Kiss is sure Ruan Pienaar's form will not be affected by the disappointment that he will be leaving at the end of this season.

Ulster kick-off their PRO12 campaign against Dragons tomorrow night with their preparations overshadowed by the announcement that no deal could be struck with the IRFU to keep the Springbok World Cup winner beyond this year.

Despite having made it known that he wanted to stay, Kiss described Pienaar's current attitude as one of a "consummate professional".

"Ruan has been an outstanding servant to Ulster Rugby over the past six years and he will be a huge loss for us next season," said the Australian. "For me, he is a fantastic player, but he is an even better person, who is much-loved by his team-mates, the staff and management, and the wider rugby community here in Ulster.

"His influence within the squad, both on and off the field, is truly remarkable; whether that is through match-winning contributions, or mentoring the promising players coming through our pathway. Indeed, he has played a big part in helping us to develop a large group of talented young backline players who have gone on to represent Ireland.

"He is a consummate professional and I have absolutely no doubt that he will give everything to the Ulster cause for the rest of the season. Our hope is that he will one day return to the province to continue to have a positive impact on rugby in Ulster."

In better news for the Kingspan outfit, Kiss spoke of the "expediency and flexibility" shown by the IRFU on another matter, the recruitment of injury cover for his tight-head props.

While a visa is still to be granted, Georgian prop Anton Peikrishvili is on his way to Belfast and it is hoped he can make his debut within the next two weeks.

Peikrishvili, who faced New Zealand in the World Cup after being called in as an injury replacement and took on Ulster with Castres in the Heineken Cup, will offer relief in an injury crisis that has wiped out Ulster's senior tighthead depth.

"I would like to thank the IRFU for their expediency and flexibility in allowing us to bring in this support," he said. "During these discussions we shared our desire to give young Academy props, such as Ross Kane and Craig Trenier, opportunities to represent the senior squad.

"Anton is an experienced player who will provide us with extra cover in a very important position."

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