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This was all about paying tribute to two of our greats

By Michael Sadlier

The weather just had to get itself involved, didn’t it? We wanted a sun-kissed evening, at the start of June too, to finally, finally say goodbye to Ruan Pienaar and Roger Wilson.

What we got was grey skies and rain — lots of rain. It almost reminded us of the Baa Baas’ last visit in the sodden but chilled darkness of last winter but this time, at least, the cold stayed away meaning that Ulster’s blue shirts didn’t equate to the climatic conditions.

And thankfully the weather refused to take complete control with both sides showing a willingness to cross the line — via mauls aplenty — with both Pienaar and Wilson busying themselves around the pitch.

For Pienaar it lasted until just after 35 minutes when he converted Callum Patterson’s try, turned and jogged off to briefly acknowledge the cheers.

Ulster’s greatest ever import now begins the still rather painful process of relocating to France.

Painful for him as he so much wanted to see out his time at Ulster, painful for the supporters and squad as losing a player of his calibre is colossal no matter how you look at it.

Wilson certainly put in a decent shift in that first half and seeing him wrestle with Mike Ross at the side of a ruck showed that he certainly wasn’t going to shirk anything ahead of his retirement.

For the night that was in it, it was appropriate that both Pienaar and Wilson emerged with their children and the joyful atmosphere of the occasion continued once the game began as well with Stuart McCloskey’s opening try being converted by Ulster’s former No.8.

There was a neat interchange between the pair near the Baas Baas line when Wilson reverse passed to Pienaar off a scrum, who then tried one of his trademark chips over the top of the advancing line of black and white shirts.

It didn’t come off though and the next thing the Baa Baas surged down the park and ended up staying there and getting right back into the game and then taking the lead just after the half hour.

At least Pienaar didn’t depart with Ulster trailing and his last act was to convert Patterson’s 35th-minute try as the South African’s beloved Ulster got back in front.

And with the kick having sailed between the sticks, he trotted off holding his kicking tee and taking in the notable ovation he received for the World Cup winner’s endgame in an Ulster shirt.

And Wilson was on his way in the 53rd minute — with Ulster back in the lead again — which saw Alex Goode run over to shake his hand as the province’s most capped player left, though notably without the spring in the step which had been shown earlier by Pienaar.

It was, of course, understandable after the 35-year-old had put in a longer and more physical shift though just as with Pienaar’s final bow, Ulster then promptly lost the lead and the game.

Still, that wasn’t really an issue. This occasion was about paying tribute to two Ulster legends and not even Thierry Dusautoir’s final act in rugby, when he also got in on the converting act, could detract from that.

To Ruan and Roger, well, thanks for everything. And who cares about the weather anyway?

Belfast Telegraph


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