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Rugby World Cup: Ruan Pienaar wants final date with Ulster pals

By Jonathan Bradley

Even after falling victim to the biggest shock in the tournament's history when his side lost against Japan, South Africa's Ruan Pienaar is still targeting a World Cup final meeting with Ireland.

The Ulster scrum-half has been hugely impressed by Joe Schmidt's side so far, especially with his provincial team-mates to the fore, and admits that battling some familiar faces for the Webb Ellis Cup on October 31 would be a dream scenario.

Should both the Springboks and Ireland reach the final, Pienaar could go up against Rory Best, Tommy Bowe, Iain Henderson, Jared Payne, Chris Henry, Darren Cave and Paddy Jackson.

"I really hope the Irish boys do well," he told the Belfast Telegraph from South Africa's base in north-east England.

"They've performed so well in the last two years and they've got a really good team.

"I've watched their games and it's great to see the Ulster boys doing well. They've all been contributing, scoring a few tries. I'm happy for them.

"It would be really interesting to play against them… I just hope it's in the final and that South Africa can win."

Few in the Rainbow Nation will share his confidence, the country's rugby supporters still shaken by their loss to Japan in the first week.

Pienaar can still recall his sheer disbelief watching on from the sidelines having been substituted on the hour mark, and moving on from a result that was cheered by all but his 54 million compatriots has proven a challenge.

However, he asserts that the squad have successfully insulated themselves from the criticism from home.

Heyneke Meyer's men responded with a bonus-point win over Samoa last weekend and now face Scotland at St James' Park on Saturday - with Pienaar named on the bench.

"The Japan result wasn't what we expect of ourselves and it just wasn't good enough," Pienaar said.

"It's difficult when something is so disappointing for a team and also a nation but you have to move on.

"It was the worst loss of all of our careers but it's behind us. Our next job is Scotland.

"I think for us as a team, you don't expect to lose but it does show the way rugby has grown across the world. You have to give them credit.

"They played well on the day. They did everything well that we wanted to do well and they deserved it."

The example of England negotiating their way to a final rematch with his own South Africa after a heavy opening defeat in 2007, as well as France coming within a penalty of lifting the trophy despite a loss to Tonga in their pool four years ago, now have resonance for Pienaar.

The man who is just three Ulster appearances short of a century is determined to ensure that what is likely to be his final appearance on the global stage is not defined by defeat to Eddie Jones' men.

"We've still got massive amounts to play for," he affirmed. "We spoke about those two World Cups. It's still possible to go all the way. There's still belief in this team and we're still in a good space.

"After the win against Samoa, everything felt a lot better and there's belief that we can do something special.

"It was pleasing to get back to the result we wanted against Samoa but we're still under huge amounts of pressure.

"We know how much Scotland have improved. Their confidence is right up there. It's a massive game for us."

While preparation for the big contest may prevent Pienaar from keeping an eye on Ulster game against Treviso tomorrow, he has remained in close contact with the players at the Kingspan and is eagerly anticipating re-joining his team-mates at the conclusion of his international duties.

"I'm looking forward to getting back to Belfast and putting on that Ulster jersey again for a successful season," he said before adding: "Hopefully not until November!"

Belfast Telegraph

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