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Speculation mounts on Ruan Pienaar return as Ulster fans react to Montpellier departure

Hero’s return: Ruan Pienaar is back at his family home in Belfast amid speculation of an Ulster coaching role
Hero’s return: Ruan Pienaar is back at his family home in Belfast amid speculation of an Ulster coaching role

By Michael Sadlier in the Sunday Life

Ulster fans will be hoping that former Kingspan Stadium favourite Ruan Pienaar's decision to quit playing in France could see him involved again at the province.

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Speculation is mounting that the 35-year-old, who has never made any secret of his desire to settle in Ulster, and whose wife and children relocated to Belfast last year, could yet feature in Dan McFarland's plans for next season whether in a playing or coaching capacity.

Top 14 club Montpellier announced over the weekend that the former South Africa international was being released from his contract after two years with a season still to run on his deal.

Pienaar had not featured for the French side since his sister's death in a South African road accident last February when he was granted compassionate leave.

He is believed to have returned to Belfast where his wife and family have lived since last year after moving back - they did not settle in the south of France - following Pienaar's first season at Montpellier.

Pienaar moved to France in 2017 after the IRFU's much publicised refusal to grant him his preferred contract extension at Ulster.

The former World Cup winner could potentially be offered a short-term deal, IRFU permitting, to provide scrum-half cover should John Cooney be called up to the World Cup squad.

Pienaar might be more likely to get a call-up to the Ulster backroom team whether as a kicking coach or, potentially, with some input into the Ulster Academy structure.

Montpellier's statement regarding Pienaar's departure said: "(It is) A decision understood and accepted by Montpellier Hérault Rugby, which releases the player one year before the end of his contract."

Pienaar also released a statement which gave no indication of his future plans, though he may also opt to move home to South Africa to either play on or coach.

"I want to thank my team-mates with whom I have played for the past two seasons and all the fans. I wish the club every success," he said.

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