Ruan Pienaar braced for massive Montpellier challenge
South African looking forward to three more years playing in Belfast
Ruan Pienaar: bracing himself for a tough test against Montpellier in France.
The last three weeks have passed in a run of weekly declarations, as if Ulster have been building up an arsenal. One by one the cast from Ravenhill have been resigned, accompanied by satisfied comments from David Humphreys that ambition stalks the place. Ruan Pienaar, the reluctant starlet in their northern constellation, cast a glance at Toulon before he gave his signature and fell for Belfast over the Cote d’Azur. How the media got that one wrong.
Pienaar’s name is as important as the Titanic Quarter for selling the confidence of the city as much as Humphreys’ hopes. But Pienaar is prosaic about it all. A South African who likes the feel of the city, who lives close to captain Johann Muller admits Belfast isn’t Toulon, nor indeed Bloemfontein.
“It wasn’t easy although I’ve enjoyed my time here in Belfast,” he says. “It’s been an enjoyable couple of years but when other opportunities come along you know you may try something new, a different place, a different culture. It wasn’t an easy decision but at the end of the day I’m happy with the one that I made.
“It’s not always easy but I’ve got a family to think of now and I’ve been happy in Ireland and Ulster. My family is important to me.
“For sure it’s nice to know this is where I will be for the next couple of years. I’m glad to have had the opportunity and I’m looking forward to that so yeah I’m excited about the future here in Belfast and playing for Ulster.”
Last spring Ulster took off to Enniskillen for a training camp, pitching their training tent in Portora Royal School. It was there Pienaar reflected on the wear and tear, his summers of Rugby Championship with the Springboks and then seamlessly tumbling back to an Irish winter in October.
His eye-catching cameo last week against Leicester showed no signs of fatigue and although he wasn’t the first choice scrumhalf under coach Heyneke Meyer, it had been the sustained mental commitment that had been dragging.
“No, I haven’t had much of a break yet so I’ll try to have some kind of a break somewhere during the year or the season,” he says. “I’m still looking forward to the next couple of weeks and games and I feel I can perform well.
“For sure it was good being back at Ravenhill playing with everyone, settled and packing the suit case away for a while. It’s always great especially with the transformations (at Ravenhill), so yeah it’s kind of special to play my first game back there and getting a good run against a good team.”
That’s not about to stop with Ulster’s second-round match against Montpellier this week in France. Last month Montpellier smashed last year’s Heineken Cup finalists Clermont. The Ulster scrumhalf not unaware of his opposite number’s input there.
To top place
Jonathan Pelissie scored 31 points in the 43-3 Top 14 rout, which at the time moved Montpellier to the top place in the tournament. The scrumhalf scored two of Montpellier’s four tries and kicked 21 points.
“It was pleasing to get the win against Leicester but the squad left a couple of chances out there,” he says critically. “I don’t think it was as accurate and as clinical as we wanted it to be. But we’ll take that one. There was a lot to be positive about and going to Montpellier this weekend is going to be tough.
“They are a brilliant side and played good rugby the last few weeks. We’ve a good squad but it’s a massive challenge. Any French team is always physical and especially at home. If you look at the performances they’ve given at home this year . . . beating Clermont and other teams. It’s not going to be easy.”
With François Trinh-Duc, who was born in Montpellier, at outhalf that’s quite a package for Pienaar and the in-form Paddy Jackson, as well as a backline laced with young players.
“We’ve a couple of guys like Paddy and Stuart Olding, so there’s a lot to be positive about in the future,” he says. “That’s exciting because it’s about getting to the next level. Like I said it was good to get the win against Leicester. Whenever you beat them you can feel satisfied. We left some chances out there but yeh, the squad is in a good place at the minute.”