What's next for Ulster's Springbok Ruan Pienaar?
He’s won a world cup, a Currie Cup, faced the Lions, played in a Heineken Cup final and won 88 caps for South Africa. Even though the Ulster chapter is coming to an end – for now – 32-year-old scrum-half Ruan Pienaar isn’t done yet. He talks to the Rhino Locker Room…
I know where I’m going next but I’m not allowed to say for a few weeks. Unfortunately I have to move on, but I would love to come back though. Ulster have given a lot to me and my family, I’ve had seven unbelievable years, and maybe there’ll be something I can do with the academy on the coaching side when I’ve retired from playing. My kids have grown up here, my wife loves it here and wants to move back too, so we’d be more than happy to return some day.
I’m turning 33 in March and I still feel good. When I was younger I used to think making it to 30 as a player would be a good innings, but I’m still here. I still enjoy training in the early mornings, I like playing and running, I love the big crowds and being out there on the pitch – overall, I feel pretty good. I want to play as long as I possibly can, although the next contract is close to being the last. Once that enjoyment factor goes, I’ll know it’s time.
We’re still in a good place at the business end of the Guinness Pro12 season. We took a lot of confidence from the win over Glasgow, and we know we’ve not played our best rugby this season, we’ve been inconsistent, but we’re still in there. It’s a tough league and sides have a lot of depth. You can see that in the log jam at the top – we’re one of eight sides in a fight for the play-offs.
I was just exhausted after scoring against Glasgow. I’d ran a long way. I’d not played rugby since Christmas and it was great to make it to the line, it was such a team effort and it was nice to score at the Kingspan too. Hopefully, now we’ll play well until the end of the season and make it to the final.
Look at what Leinster and Munster have done over the last few years... ... the Guinness Pro12 must be doing something right.
I think a Guinness Pro12 side could win the Champions Cup. The Pro12 has come a long way. World-class players are starting to join and, while you can never compete with the money of the Top 14, you only have to look at the Pro12 sides in Europe to see how well they’re doing. Look at what Leinster and Munster have done over the last few years, they’re two of the strongest teams in Europe, so the Pro12 must be doing something right.
Image and main image: Inpho.ie
I didn’t know anything about Ulster or Belfast when I joined. I didn’t do any research, so seeing Ravenhill for the first time was a bit of a shock – I’d been used to playing in Durban in front of 50,000. Ravenhill was a pretty small stadium and when I think back I can see how far we’ve come. I never thought I’d stay this long. Seven seasons has gone really fast, but I’ve enjoyed every minute.
Seeing how many people travel for the Lions was incredible. I’ve been lucky. I was part of the world cup winning squad, the following year we won the Currie Cup with a very special group of players, and then there was the Lions series. Not a lot of people get the opportunity to play against the Lions.
Nobody expected Ulster to get to the Heineken Cup final. It was a huge occasion, the whole run was incredible, even though we lost. But that Leinster side was something else – the way they played, nobody would have beaten them on the day.
Joost van der Westhuizen was my childhood hero. It was just so sad when the news came through that he had passed away. Even during his illness he touched a lot of people, he made a big impact. And on the rugby field, his record speaks for himself – it’s sad to lose a great like that.
I wasn’t surprised that South Africa struggled last year, although It was worse than expected
South Africa were always going to struggle after the world cup. A few players hung up their boots, there was a new coaching set-up, a few inexperienced players, and, of course, there’s always politics involved, so I wasn’t surprised they struggled last year. It was worse than expected, but they’ll have gained a lot of experience from it, it hurts a lot to lose in a Springbok jersey. It’s a very proud nation, and rugby means a lot, but they’ll be better going forward.
I would like to get into coaching. My dad coached and I grew up next to rugby pitches, so I always want to be involved. I’ve been lucky in being able to follow my dreams and make a career out of rugby, so I’m always thankful for that. I hope that can continue and I can always be in rugby in some way.
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