Deal blindsides Sharks

2010-05-29 00:00

THE Sharks are furious that Ulster have breached International Rugby Board regulations by announcing that they have signed their Springbok utility back Ruan Pienaar.

Pienaar, one of the most talented and versatile players in world rugby, has a contract with both the Sharks and the Springboks, which does not expire until the end of the year.

The announcement by Ulster yesterday has angered Sharks officials and a complaint has been lodged with the IRB.

According to Pienaar’s contract, the Sharks have the option of matching the offer, but commercial manager Rudolf Straeuli told Weekend Witness yesterday that Ulster’s announcement is illegal and premature.

“We have not been approached,” said Straeuli. “They are speaking to a player outside of the window period in terms of when his contract ends, and that is against IRB regulations. There is a process and in any case we have a right to match their offer when we eventually see it. But we won’t release him, and we’ll be fighting to keep him.”

Sharks officials, with a major problem at flyhalf, will certainly want to at least retain Pienaar until after the Currie Cup, particularly now that Ulster have gone behind their backs in negotiating and, apparently, signing Pienaar.

What is surprising, and at a time when a number of overseas-based Boks are planning to return to South Africa, is that Pienaar is prepared to sacrifice his place in the squad for next year’s World Cup.

Bok coach Peter de Villiers has made it clear that he will only choose overseas players if there is no local talent available in any particular position.

It has been reported that Pienaar, who has been forced to play his rugby in the shadow of Fourie du Preez, the best scrumhalf on the planet, has fallen out with De Villiers.

But the coaches, both at Springbok and Sharks level, have attempted to accommodate Pienaar.

Last year, against the British Lions, De Villiers had Pienaar as his first-choice flyhalf, pairing him with Du Preez at halfback, and Sharks coach John Plumtree used him in that position in the Super 14.

It was only injury and the dramatic emergence of Morné Steyn as a potent match winner which saw Pienaar relegated to the bench against the Lions.

During this year’s Super 14 Plumtree returned Pienaar to his favoured position at scrumhalf, while De Villiers has continued to keep him involved by selecting him to play at flyhalf ahead of Peter Grant against Wales next Saturday.

Ulster’s director, David Humphreys, has been trying to woo Pienaar since February when they signed Sharks lock Johann Muller.

“Johann was up front with us about the Ulster offer from the start,” said Straeuli. “But with Ruan we have never been consulted by Ulster, Ruan or his agent [Gerrie Swart].”

This did not stop Ulster and Humphreys trumpeting Pienaar’s signing yesterday.

“Bringing Ruan to Ulster is a massive statement of our ambition to be competing with the top teams in Europe,” said Humphreys.

“He is one of the most naturally gifted players in world rugby and having had huge experience at international level with the Springboks, we believe Ruan will help Ulster achieve success over the next couple of seasons.”

Pienaar will join former Sharks BJ Botha and Muller in Belfast. The 26 year old has been with the Sharks since moving to Durban shortly after leaving school. He made his Sharks debut at the age of 20 in 2004, and has played 36 Tests.

The Sharks, who have lost high profile players BJ Botha, Butch James, Frans Steyn, Brad Barritt and Muller over the past two seasons, are desperate to hold on to Pienaar, particularly as they lack genuine backline talent.

But matching the lucrative offers from overseas clubs, stretching from a reported R3 million a year for Muller to R7 million by Racing Metro for Frans Steyn, is proving impossible.

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