‘You’ve got to move on’ – Pienaar looking past Champions Cup disappointment

LAST WEEKEND PROVIDED Ulster with a tough pill to swallow, as their hopes of advancing to the knock-out stages of the Champions Cup were all but extinguished.

While head coach Neil Doak insists they will keep fighting against Toulon and Leicester in January, the impression is that the Pro12 now provides the northern province with their only genuine prospect of silverware this season.

While their supporters may be forgiven for being downcast late into this week after defeat to the Scarlets, scrum-half Ruan Pienaar explains that Ulster must move on quickly from their European setback.

A visit to the Ospreys on Saturday evening [KO 17.15] allows them the chance to do exactly that.

“I think we’ve just got to move on and we are still in a good position in the league. We’ve lots to play for and we know we need to perform better. We’ve been training really well this week and hopefully that will show on the pitch.”

Two inter-provincial derbies against Connacht [26 December] and Leinster [3 January] follow hot on the heels of this weekend’s Ospreys clash, a run of three games in 15 days for Doak’s men.

Pienaar says he and his teammates have to move on swiftly. Source: Presseye/Matt MAckey/INPHO

“We’re focusing on getting into the New Year and getting ourselves into a good position, with a couple of tough games lying ahead in the next couple of weeks,” says South Africa international Pienaar.

“After that a lot of the guys will join the Irish squad for the Six Nations, so it’s important for us to perform and pick up points to put ourselves in a good position going forward.”

Having Pienaar back on the pitch certainly helps in that regard, with the past two weekends having seen the scrum-half make his first two starts of the season after a long-term knee injury.

He admits to some rustiness around his skills, but underlines that “it’s obviously nice to be back after a couple of months out.” The 30-year-old was part of an impressive Ulster backline in the last fortnight, another positive for the province moving forward.

Ulster managed only one try through Darren Cave at Parc y Scarlets, but 11 clean linebreaks over the course of the back-to-back European fixtures bode well for what is to come.

“I think there’s a lot of positives,” says Pienaar of Ulster’s backline. “Even this past weekend I felt we made a lot of linebreaks and just didn’t finish them off. We’ve been training hard and it’s been going well in the backline.

Pienaar’s return is a positive for Neil Doak ahead of a bust festive period. Source: Presseye/Darren Griffiths/INPHO

“We’re all really hard on ourselves and we know there’s a lot to improve on. It’s great to make those linebreaks and see stuff you’ve been training for working on the pitch. From that point of view, it’s been positive.”

While referring to the quality of the Ospreys duo of Rhys Webb and Dan Biggar, Pienaar says he is enjoying playing with Ian Humphreys. Indeed, the latter pairing linking smoothly was part of the reason Ulster broke down the Scarlets regularly.

Pienaar hadn’t played with the 32-year-old out-half since his previous stint at Ulster in 2012, but the early indications are that he and Humphreys are combining well.

“I think Ian has been really good for us in attack and making good decisions, getting us to play in the right areas. It’s great to have two 10s of that quality to steer the ship and we can just grow the partnership.”

– First published 07.00

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