Ex-Ulster talisman Ruan Pienaar is hoping his old club can pull off a Guinness PRO14 surprise on Saturday by defeating Leinster in an all-Ireland final of the five-nation league.
Now at the Cheetahs following a post-Ulster Top 14 stint at Montpellier, the South African is fully aware of the task facing the club he represented 141 times, including the 2013 decider where he scored all of Ulster’s points in their 24-18 defeat at the RDS.
That game took place in front of a sold-out 19,200 attendance and while Saturday’s renewal seven years later will happen behind closed doors at Aviva Stadium due to pandemic restrictions, Pienaar has fingers crossed the result will see Ulster lift their first trophy in 14 years.
“Ulster last won the competition in 2006, and we were in the final in 2013 where we lost against Leinster. For a small place like Belfast it is a massive achievement,” he said.
“The club has a great tradition and is always in the semi-finals and they will know what they have to do. Facing a team like Leinster isn’t easy because they have won so much and have been in these situations for so many times and know how to react.
? @LeinsterRugby's Caelan Doris has been named our Next Gen Star of the Season 19/20!
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“But a final is anyone’s game. It takes one wrong bounce and it can go any way. I’m excited to watch the game and really hope Ulster can give Leinster a real go this weekend.”
Ulster will take confidence not only from the manner of their semi-final comeback win away to Edinburgh last year but from how they played under coach Dan McFarland when they faced Leinster at the Aviva in the Champions Cup quarter-finals in March 2019, a contest that was only lost by three points in a shootout coming down the finishing straight.
“It’s a massive achievement for Ulster to make the final,” continued Pienaar. “Watching last weekend’s semi-final, they were in a bit of trouble at half-time, but they showed a lot of character and fight to come back and win the game at the end.
“I’m still a massive supporter of Ulster and always want them to do well. I’m overjoyed to see them in the final, but it will be difficult to beat Leinster, who will definitely arrive as favourites for the final. But as we have seen in the past, anything can happen in a final. Ulster will need to be at their best.
“Dan will prepare them well for the week and they will have a definitive plan to try and take them on. Last year in the Champions Cup quarter-finals, they really took Leinster on and eventually just lost by two or three points if my memory serves me correctly.
“Ulster play them on a regular basis and they know Leinster’s strengths and weaknesses well. So if there is a team that can give them a go, it is Ulster. From my side, I really hope so but they will need to be at their best,” enthused Pienaar, who had this advice for his old club’s current players.
“Don’t let the occasion get the better of you. Obviously, there won’t be a crowd, so you will need to generate your own energy for the game. They are good enough and they know Leinster well enough to know where to strike. They will have a good plan from their coaching staff. They need to enjoy the occasion and the result will sort it out. I’m looking forward to seeing them and hoping that they do well.”
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