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Ruan Pienaar's latest starring role leaves Ulster Rugby fans yearning for more

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By Michael Sadlier

Ruan Pienaar's name echoed around the Kingspan Stadium last night after he walked off with the man of the match award.

And how the South African delivered, sending a message to all those who have always valued his huge contribution to Ulster's progress.

But, after this campaign, it will be no more, so now is the time to enjoy all that he has done before and, undoubtedly, what is still to come.

Another season, when who knows what might be round the corner, got itself moving along last night and, yet, even before a ball had been kicked in anger, we had already felt the first tremors to have been thrown Ulster Rugby's way.

And the reverberations of it last night?

The huge roar when Pienaar's name was announced over the PA system just before the teams ran out for action gave us a flavour that feelings were still running very high after any contract extension following this season for the South African was denied by the IRFU earlier this week.

Over on one side of the ground a banner was unfurled. 'D4 - Ruaning Ulster' it read and, well, it was hard not to empathise.

Whatever your stance on Pienaar being refused a contract extension to take him through to retirement - and realistically very few Ulster followers are likely to have sided with the IRFU's viewpoint - the last few days must have been particularly difficult for the Springbok.

After all, the whole affair - which unexpectedly emerged on Wednesday morning - managed to pretty much eclipse the fact that Ulster's PRO12 campaign got up and running last night when the Dragons came to town and were seen off by five tries, one of which was, inevitably, scored by the man at the centre of everyone's attention.

With Ulster's expressed disappointment, along with that of the player himself, being followed up by the IRFU's clarifying statement on their policy - a rap across the knuckles for the province - the spat pretty much relegated all other considerations regarding the season opener to the back of the room.

Even the expected hype over Charles Piutau's competitive debut managed to be eclipsed by the feeling of rancour over Pienaar's future.

Hardly the ideal build-up for the squad, never mind Pienaar himself.

The South African looked a bit rusty from the off, as were his team-mates when the Dragons went 8-0 in front.

But then, as usual, he showed us something special.

Roger Wilson and Clive Ross had turned a ball over when he broke free, stepped the cover and put in a beautiful kick for Rob Lyttle to score.

The conversion followed and in Ulster's moment of need, Pienaar had provided a rallying point when it really counted. The try was typical, sensing a half chance and seizing it.

Carl Meyer slightly delayed his clearance and Pienaar was on him, charging it down to score.

Though the crowd's sense of injustice wasn't exactly sated, Ruan had delivered.

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