Poll: Who should be the scrum-half in Ulster Rugby's team of the decade?
It's time for us to move into the backs today as we continue our voting on who will make up Ulster's team of the decade!
Rugby round up Newsletter
Voting will close at 12 noon on Thursday (December 19) so make sure you have your say on all positions before then: Loosehead prop - Hooker - Tighthead prop - Locks - Blindside flanker - Openside flanker - Number eight - Fly-half - Wingers - Inside centre - Outside centre - Full-back
1. Ruan Pienaar
The Springbok World Cup winner arrived to much fanfare in 2010 and quickly set about showing his class with a string of match-winning performances. Over the course of seven years in an Ulster jersey would become the province's greatest foreign import and a talisman for a side that reached four consecutive European quarter-finals as well as a PRO12 final.
His career in Ireland would end in controversial circumstances, refused a contract extension by the IRFU due to a ruling on "succession planning." His emotional farewell against Leinster at the end of a season yielding no knockout rugby was ill-fitting for a player who had rejected the lure of Toulon to remain in Ireland at the end of his first contract. Still plying his trade in the PRO14 with the Cheetahs.
2. Paul Marshall
Despite his career largely over-lapping with that of Ruan Pienaar's, Paul Marshall still racked up over 200 appearances for his native province. Capped by Ireland on three occasions having made his debut in the Six Nations of 2013, the former Methody pupil would retire at the end of the 2017/18 season but can still be found regularly at Kingspan Stadium working in a media capacity.
Made his debut in 2006 against Dragons and by the turn of the decade was an established member of the squad. During Pienaar's absence through injury or international duty Marshall would prove to be a more than able starter while the tempo he brought from the bench made him an archetypal game-changer in the closing stages of games against tiring opposition.
3. John Cooney
Amid the furore caused by Ruan Pienaar's exit, few could have predicted the success that John Cooney would make of his move north. Having won a Heineken Cup with Leinster - after a final played against Ulster - and a Pro12 with Connacht, Ulster would be the Dublin native's third province but the first where he would finally get an injury-free run.
Having struggled with a shoulder issue prior to the switch, Cooney would earn a first Irish cap on the summer tour to Japan before making his Ulster bow and quickly set about winning over the Kingspan faithful. Now in his third season, he is arguably the side's stand-out performer, his recent form in Europe especially raising more calls for him to play a prominent role in next year's Six Nations campaign.
Belfast Telegraph Digital