ULSTER COACH MARK Anscombe is hopeful that the province can hang on to Ruan Pienaar, despite reports from France that the South African’s move to Toulon next season is a done deal.
Capped 70 times for the Springboks, Pienaar has been a central figure in the Ulster squad since joining in 2010, particularly as 21-year-old Paddy Jackson has developed alongside him at out-half. Pienaar’s tactical awareness, kicking ability and decision making have all been key to Ulster’s progress over the last three years.
Toulon have been in search of experienced half-backs for some time now, with Jonny Wilkinson set to retire at the end of the season. Pienaar’s ability to cover scrum-half and out-half is another attractive feature for the Heineken Cup champions. New Zealander Anscombe says Ulster want him to stay, but that it’s an honour that other clubs are chasing their players.
“They’re the options everyone has. You don’t know what he’s been offered and what the circumstances are. He’s away at the moment, he’s back on Monday, but we’ll be making sure we present our best case. We want to keep him, he’s a world class player and that’s why other teams come after him because he’s world class.
People want their best players and if you’re in the market and can get those people then you can go after them. I think it’s a credit to our organisation that other clubs are after some of our players. It means we’re doing something right.”
Pienaar is currently preparing for Saturday’s Rugby Championship decider against the All Blacks, although he will start on the bench, with Fourie du Preez preferred at scrum-half. Anscombe says he hasn’t been in contact with Pienaar since the rumours broke in France but will speak to him when he returns to Ireland on Monday.
“David [Humpherys] has been in contact with him a few times. So we’ll sit down with him when he gets back in.”
However, Anscombe did give a hint that he is beginning to accept that Pienaar won’t be with Ulster next season when he spoke of his hope that any players who will be leaving the province in the future give their best efforts for the remainder of the current campaign.
Anscombe spoke to TheScore.ie at the Irish launch of this season’s Heineken Cup. ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan
“Sometimes you’ve got to control the controllable and sometimes you won’t be able to keep everyone you want. The fact is different circumstances suit different people at different times. We’re working through that at the moment and we’ve re-signed a few players. We’re working through it and it’s always a process.
“In professional sport in any given month there are one or two players that you’re dealing with. It’s a matter of keeping in control and what you need to focus on. Good professional people still like to take pride in their performance and they play right up until the given time they are with an organisation.
If we are to lose one or two players, you’d like to think their make-up is that they’ll still give everything they’ve got while they’ve got the jersey on them.”
Anscombe is focused on the immediate aspects within his control, namely a visit to the Ospreys on Friday night in the Pro12, before welcoming the Leicester Tigers to Ravenhill on the opening evening of the Heineken Cup. The Ulster coach hopes to see Pienaar back in white as soon as possible.
“He’s back on Monday, so fingers crossed he doesn’t get much game time this weekend. He didn’t get any last week. So hopefully he’s fighting fit and raring to go.”