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Sam Carter: It's vital that we limit Ruan Pienaar's influence in Cheetah's clash

Winning start: Sam Carter looks on as Greg Jones touches down for Ulster against Ospreys last Friday
Winning start: Sam Carter looks on as Greg Jones touches down for Ulster against Ospreys last Friday

By Michael Sadlier

Let's return, again, to a night in November in Belfast, and one largely only remembered for the particular bleakness of the weather.

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Next month it will be three years since the Barbarians and Fiji tried to make a contest of it at the Kingspan Stadium while admirably grappling long and hard against the torrential rain.

That was the last time Sam Carter encountered Ruan Pienaar, who skippers the Cheetahs this evening.

They were both part of a Baa-Baas squad - as, indeed, was Matt Faddes - which won handily enough and though the Australian lock and Kiwi utility back have already, humorously, referenced that rain-sodden night as their first taste of playing here prior to signing on for this season, this time the memory being dredged up is different.

Carter had previously played against Pienaar - and as it happens Marcell Coetzee - when togging out for Australia against South Africa in the Rugby Championship prior to this Kingspan occasion, but had never really been in his company until that Baa-Baas tour of November 2016.

"Playing against him was a long time ago, but I do remember him from that time with the Barbarians," said the recently-turned 30-year-old Aussie lock. "He had a presence and a great deal of calmness and leadership around him."

Having said that, the Barbarians' ethos isn't exactly one of tub-thumping speeches nor, indeed, rigorous training schedules but, even so, Carter could see that there was something about Pienaar.

Now Carter gets to be around him again, though this time they are on opposite sides which will seem strange for some of the Ulster squad nearly two and a half years since Pienaar's last competitive game in the province's colours.

Of course, the South African finally bowed out at the Kingspan in a Baa-Baas shirt which seems appropriate as Carter reflects on his time in that famous black and white hooped jersey.

"I'm sure the Cheetahs will have that direction from him in this game," stated Carter.

"And it's something we'll have to minimise if we're to get a good result."

Fair point. Pienaar was in fairly imperious form for his new club in last weekend's bonus-point win over Glasgow and, prior to the PRO14 kicking off, was also prominent when the Cheetahs lifted the Currie Cup.

Carter also has Super Rugby experience, with the Brumbies, of playing both the Cheetahs and Kings, though a lot has changed since the South African franchises joined the PRO14.

"I've only played them once each in South Africa and I think we (the Brumbies) had tight wins," he recalled.

Playing at altitude, though, is a memory he can draw upon without too much trouble.

"I've been to South Africa a few times, it's always challenging and especially when you play at altitude," he said.

"I think there are several factors really, like the way the Cheetahs play, with a fast tempo and expansively.

"Throw in the altitude and the travel and it does make it hard. But, again, it's something we've prepared for and something we just have to address on the day."

As for Carter's competitive debut last weekend in the bonus-point beating of the Ospreys, he feels that it went fairly well.

"One of the major factors in that early part of the game was our discipline and it was something we addressed this week," he said.

"I guess you don't want to be playing world-beating rugby in your first game but it was good to get a win and team performance."

And the set-pieces? These are more his thing really and Carter reckoned they are very much a work in progress.

"There's definitely room for improvement," he said.

"We had new guys in new positions building relationships and there are things we need to work on."

As for today's selection, Ulster have made just the one change to their match-day 23 with new signing Bill Johnston getting his first competitive start at the expense of last week's man of the match Billy Burns, who drops out entirely.

It looks like a strange call from Dan McFarland - it is believed to be purely a selection call - to throw the Munster man in and particularly so with Michael Lowry benched.

There is also no sign of Coetzee or short-term signing Wiehahn Herbst.

Ulster, and Carter, know they face a formidable challenge.

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