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Dwayne Peel wary of Ruan Pienaar's influence on Cheetahs

Familiar face: Ulster coach Dwayne Peel expects Ruan
Pienaar to play a big part in Saturday’s game in Bloemfontein
Familiar face: Ulster coach Dwayne Peel expects Ruan Pienaar to play a big part in Saturday’s game in Bloemfontein

By Michael Sadlier

It's all turning into a bit of a reunion, really.

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Ulster arrive in South Africa for their two-game tour with 28 players having made the long-haul flight and the 29th already waiting for them.

Former Ulster squad member Wiehahn Herbst will provide cover at tight-head prop for Dan McFarland's travelling party due to the leg injury which keeps Marty Moore at home.

Also not in the southern hemisphere are Will Addison and Stuart McCloskey who are both sidelined with unspecified leg issues..

On a much more upbeat note, though, is the return of Marcell Coetzee whose World Cup hopes were dashed after injuring an ankle playing for South Africa over the summer.

But back to Herbst. The 31-year-old left Ulster last April and returned home, where he joined the Bulls squad.

He originally hooked up with Ulster in 2014 after leaving the Sharks and, though he became Ireland-qualified, never featured in a national squad.

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The plan is that Herbst will be with the squad for their games at the Cheetahs on Saturday and the Kings the following weekend.

Ulster have just two specialist tight-heads in their party, Tom O'Toole and Ross Kane.

Then there's the other likely reunion which won't be so amicable - on the field anyway.

Ruan Pienaar. The Ulster legend is now with the Cheetahs and, perhaps unsurprisingly, starred for them last weekend in their opening PRO14 victory at the Toyota Stadium.

After all the controversy, and clear upset, over the IRFU's ending of his time at Ulster in 2017 - along with persistent rumours that he would make some form of return to Kingspan Stadium after his early departure from Montpellier - the 35-year-old now looks as if he will play against his former team.

"He's been in good form," says Ulster assistant coach Dwayne Peel, who arrived at the province just after Pienaar's exit.

"His Currie Cup form has been good," adds Peel of Pienaar's already positive contribution to the Cheetahs having landed some silverware.

"And he is still a dangerous player if you go by what we saw last weekend."

Over the summer, when Pienaar returned to Belfast - where his wife and children were then based in a house near to Peel's - the pair enjoyed a few chats prior to the South African deciding to return home to Bloemfontein by joining the Cheetahs.

"His body's been a massive help to him, he's not had too many injuries and he's obviously still got a competitive streak in him," says Peel who is eager to get off the subject of the Cheetahs' most prominent player.

"He's someone we've spoken about as you can imagine, but there are plenty of other dangers in that team, to be fair."

Then there is the altitude, with Ulster in Bloemfontein first this season before returning to sea level to take on the Kings in Port Elizabeth - it was the other way around a year ago.

"It's a factor when you go to Bloemfontein, there's no question of that," states Peel.

"But it's not massively on our radar. We understand what it is, the majority of the guys played last year as well so it's just par for the course when you go there."

Last time out, Ulster won at the Kings, though without a bonus point, before snatching a dramatic 39-39 try bonus draw at the Toyota Stadium courtesy of Billy Burns' last-gasp conversion.

Naturally, Peel would rather not have that level of stress for this visit to the Cheetahs - who are pretty much full strength - though he doesn't really buy into Ulster arriving there feeling empowered after last Friday's opening victory over the Ospreys.

"I think it's a different beast going out there this week," he adds with a backward glance to some of the good work done against the Ospreys.

"The Cheetahs are probably the form team and they played a competition (the Currie Cup) before coming to ours.

"They put nearly 50 points on a good Glasgow side last week, so we're expecting a very, very difficult challenge."

Still, with both sides keen on spreading the ball, Saturday could be just as high scoring a game as the one last September.

And that's not all as they meet again, thanks to be being in the same Conference, in February.

"We just play the way we want to play and if we get it right, hopefully, we'll make it a good game," says Peel.

Ulster squad for South Africa

Forwards: J Andrew, S Carter, M Coetzee, R Herring, G Jones, R Kane, A McBurney, K McCall, J McGrath, A O'Connor, E O'Sullivan, T O'Toole, Matthew Rea, S Reidy, C Ross, K Treadwell

Additional: W Herbst

Backs: B Burns, J Cooney, A Curtis, M Faddes, C Gilroy, J Hume, B Johnston, M Lowry, L Ludik, R Lyttle, L Marshall, D Shanahan

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