Tommy Bowe: Ulster will move on despite Pienaar blow

It remains to be seen where Ulster will go when the South African departs the team

Ulster’s Ruan Pienaar converts his team’s try in their Pro12 clash with Treviso. Photograph: Matteo Ciambelli/Inpho

Ulster’s Ruan Pienaar converts his team’s try in their Pro12 clash with Treviso. Photograph: Matteo Ciambelli/Inpho

 

Tommy Bowe is treading a delicate line. Months and years of trying to make an Ulster team successful and the IRFU declares their intention to remove the strongest player, Ruan Pienaar, at the end of the season, all for the greater good of Irish scrumhalf development.

That would largely be Paul Marshall and Dave Shanahan, who were both injured last week.

Players are pragmatic but hurting a team for the promise of something better for Irish rugby appears simultaneously counterintuitive and well reasoned.

Why Ulster rugby should take pain because of the needs of Ireland is a vexed question and not an issue Ulster’s British or French rivals need to struggle with. But the decision also calls into question how much emotional investment supporters should make in the province and why they should engage with a team that demands loyalty and repays it with cold business decisions that without question are harmful to success.

Bowe knows there is no certainty in the project, or that removing the South African, who has been with Ulster since 2010, will have the desired effect. But like Rory Best this week, the winger, who has played just a match and a half in 10 months but hopes to return for Ulster’s first European game, is towing the Union line

Disappointed

“Listen, yes and no,” he says to the charge that Pienaar’s removal damages Ulster’s European ambitions next season. “I can see where they’re coming from. They’re trying to look at the national team, which is number one ahead of everything in Ireland.

“We were disappointed with it obviously but more so for Ruan. We could see he was upset but that is the nature of the beast. There are people who miss out on contracts all the time, there are people who get settled and unfortunately have to move on and certainly at my stage in my career I have seen it many times.”

Second Captains

Bowe is correct that success at international rugby and especially in the cash cow of the Six Nations Championship takes precedence over the provinces.

The logic that without money and the Irish team’s high ranking there would be no professional clubs stands up. But the accusation that the IRFU showed Pienaar no loyalty when he had introduced his family to a Belfast lifestyle deserves some airing. And loyalty is an important word in the sport.

“I wouldn’t say that,” says Bowe. “I can see exactly where the IRFU is coming from. I think that it is a difficult decision but I think sport is business and rugby is business and these decisions have to be made.

“I talk to my dad who is in business and I talk to other people and as much as we would love to have Ruan around forever, the decision is made. Losing Ruan is going to be a blow. But, that happens in sport. It is just about getting over that loss and moving on.”

“Hopefully it will enable us to bring through a scrumhalf who can maybe get into the Irish set-up.

Paul Marshall, a local from Lisburn, who has been capped three times, has had to remain patient behind Pienaar as will former Belvedere College player Dave Shanahan, while Ulster also have Trinity’s Angus Lloyd, who was on the Ulster bench last week and could be again tomorrow against Scarlets.

Succession plan

None will fill the hole left by Pienaar, who has also been credited with bringing on the game of Paddy Jackson at outhalf. In that respect the Springbok has also done Ireland some service. That there does not appear to be any succession plan in place other than to leave it to the scrumhalves to fight it out for the jersey does not concern Bowe.

“The scrumhalf is the lynchpin of the team,” he says. “It’s a very, very important part of the game. You can certainly see how much Ruan has helped Paddy Jackson’s game over time.

“To lose [Pienaar] is 100 per cent a big blow but we trust Bryn Cunningham within Ulster a lot. He was obviously disappointed to lose Ruan but I think that he will have things in place.

“Himself and Les Kiss will have a plan worked out so that we’re not going to have a big void at scrumhalf next year. Whether that will be to really try and push through a few young fellas this year and really give them an opportunity . . . if they don’t take it, maybe look to someone else. I’m not too sure.

“Dave Shanahan has been there the last few years. He’s played a few game but he’s never really had a good opportunity at the top level.”

In a roundabout way this season could work out well for Ulster with their 6ft 2in 32-year-old scrumhalf effectively playing in the shop window. Not wanting to go anywhere but going all the same.

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