Do Ulster Have A Case To Appeal The IRFU’s Ruan Pienaar Decision?

South African scrumhalf Ruan Pienaar is being forced to leave Ulster at the end of the season after seven seasons with the province.

The inspirational nine has been refused the opportunity to finish his career with the northern province after the IRFU made it clear that he must move on as a result of their succession policy.

Pienaar has admitted that being forced to uproot his young family has made the IRFU’s decision to end his time in Belfast all the more difficult to stomach. At 32 years of age, his next contract is likely to be his last.

Paul Marshall has provided back-up to Pienaar during his time with Ulster, while Dave Shanahan is next in line. Marshall is 32 himself, and has only been capped by Ireland three times, with his last cap coming in 2013. Next in line is 23 year-old Shanahan, who only has a handful of starts for the province. Then we’ve got uncapped 26 year-old John Cooney coming in for the northern province next season, who really hasn’t played a lot of rugby over the last few years.

Looking around at the rest of the Irish provinces, Munster have Ireland’s first choice nine in Conor Murray, with another Irishman in Duncan Williams backing him up. The southern province will also welcome James Hart to Limerick next season- another Irish scrumhalf.

Connacht have Murray’s deputy nine in Kieran Marmion, while Leinster have Ireland’s third choice scrumhalf at the moment, Luke McGrath. Leinster also have New Zealander Jamison Gibson-Park on their books who is classed as a ‘project player,’ and will eventually also qualify for Ireland selection.

That’s 5 Irish scrumhalve’s straight away plying their trade for the other province’s next season, with the other set to go down the CJ Stander route and take advantage of the residency rule. So what’s the problem?

Ulster are now left with an ageing nine who is definitely not in Joe Schmidt’s plans, and a young half-back who is probably isn’t ready to make the step up to elite level rugby quite yet.

A lot has been going on with Ulster in recent weeks, with a number of new coaching appointments. Les Kiss’ men have been the most disappointing of the four provinces this season, despite spending heavily in the summer. The IRFU are clearly vested in the province, and will do anything to help them succeed. You can be damn sure Joe Schmidt was the man that paved the way for Gibbes appointment, having worked with him at Leinster.

Their season however could have went a lot differently had Pienaar not been ruled out with injury for their final two Champions Cup pool games. Imagine how it’s going to be next season when they don’t have him to call on full stop?

Seeing Pienaar back in action yesterday proves how much of an influence he has on the team. He lifted the entire province and helped them secure a convincing bonus-point win over Glasgow. When Munster’s Director of Rugby Rassie Erasmus put his case to the IRFU about Jaco Taute, he made it clear that it wasn’t just how the centre played, but how he made the players around him play and how their development benefitted from his presence.

The difference Pienaar makes to Ulster as a whole is incredible. They can make all the coaching appointments they want, but they will never be able to replace the Springbok legend. It’s time Ulster sat down at the IRFU roundtable once again to appeal their case.

Maybe this time some sense will prevail.

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