Ruan Pienaar heads for Ulster after frustration with Springbok coach

2010-07-30 00:00

THE Sharks’ most talented backline player, the versatile Ruan Pienaar, has been released from his contract and will leave Durban early in September to join Ulster.

Pienaar, who has been squabbling with national coach Peter de Villiers and believes he has little future with the Springboks, has signed a two-year contract with the Irish club.

Pienaar was contracted to the Sharks until the end of the year, but commercial manager Rudolf Straeuli told The Witness yesterday that it has been agreed to release the 26-year-old early.

“It’s a pity he’ll miss the Currie Cup play-offs [in October] but he was desperate to go.

“We could have insisted he stay, but there is no sense in trying to force him to play against his will.”

Pienaar, who wants to play his rugby at scrumhalf, has become increasingly disillusioned with Bok coach De Villiers over the past two seasons. Last year he was press-ganged into playing flyhalf at Test level and told that he was not regarded as the natural successor to Bok scrumhalf Fourie du Preez for the Rugby World Cup.

De Villiers has publicly stated that he is against selecting overseas players, and Pienaar, like Frans Steyn, has almost certainly ended his chances of playing in next year’s Rugby World Cup by leaving South Africa.

“Ruan has no problem with the Sharks,” Straeuli emphasised. “We respect his decision to want to play rugby in Ireland, but will always have him back and will assist him if he wants to return.”

Pienaar’s contract with Ulster is from September 1, but he will be able to play for the Springboks in their final Tri-Nations Test against Australia on September 4 if selected.

Ulster director David Humphreys said he is delighted with the signing.

“I would like to thank the Sharks for their help in the matter and for agreeing to Ruan’s early release from his contract with them.

“We look forward to welcoming Ruan to Belfast in September. He is without doubt one of the biggest signings made in Ulster Rugby’s history and I’m confident that he will be a key asset to us both on and off the pitch.”

Pienaar will join fellow South Africa caps Johann Muller, BJ Botha and Pedrie Wannenburg in Belfast.

“I’m very excited about the change,” Pienaar said yesterday. “I have been thinking about going to the northern hemisphere for a couple of seasons now and I was very interested when the opportunity to join Ulster came up.”

Pienaar, a prolific goal-kicker and skilful attacker with a slick service, was a member of the 2007 World Cup squad. He has played at scrumhalf, flyhalf and fullback for the Boks and has 36 Test caps.

The strapping, 93 kg Pienaar, the son of former Springbok and Free State fullback Gysie, moved to Durban from Bloemfontein after leaving school in 2003 and made his debut for the Sharks in 2004.

He has played nearly all his rugby at scrumhalf while in Durban, but moved to flyhalf — at the request of the Springbok coach — for last year’s Super 14.

Straeuli told The Witness that the Sharks will be looking to sign a leading scrumhalf as a replacement for Pienaar.

The Sharks have the talented Charl McLeod and Rory Kockott on their books, but need three quality scrumhalves in the squad, and Straeuli said he is confident that a talented South African will be signed shortly.

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