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Pienaar's uncertain France future

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Pienaar back at Montpellier following compassionate leave, but his future looks uncertain

Ruan Pienaar is back in training at Montpellier following a six-week absence following the tragic death of his sister in South Africa.

The scrum-half, who hasn’t played for the Top 14 club since a Champions Cup defeat at Edinburgh in January, rushed home on February 15 following a car accident the day before Montpellier were due to face Perpignan. 

He stayed on in South Africa with his family following the funeral and only returned to training at Montpellier last Thursday ahead of their six-game, end-of-season run in which begins with Saturday’s home fixture against Agen. 

Beaten finalists in last year’s league decider, Montpellier have under-performed during Vern Cotter’s second season in charge.

They are currently in ninth place, but still have a healthy shot at creeping into the play-offs as they are just six points off sixth place Bordeaux after winning their last three matches. 

There was speculation that the 35-year-old former Springbok No9 might not see out the end of this season, never mind the last year of his contract which is supposed to keep him at Montpellier until June 2020.

Pienaar allegedly was part of the mid-season split that occurred in the dressing room following some depressing defeats that placed a question over the future of Cotter as boss. He has since been linked with a possible switch to Cheetahs, the Bloemfontein-based PRO14 outfit.

South Africa’s Ruan Pienaar passes during 2015 Rugby Championship match against New Zealand in Johannesburg (Photo by Duif du Toit/Gallo Images/Getty Images)

An immediate return to the Montpellier team isn’t expected for Pienaar. His arrival back in France last week following his six-week absence was followed by the club stating that the veteran must physically get back up to speed before being considered for selection. 

“Because he hasn’t done anything physical, his first aim will be to get back on form in the space of three weeks. Then if the team needs him he’ll bring all his experience with him,” explained Cotter.

Pienaar arrived in France in 2017 following a lengthy spell at Ulster that ended controversially. The Irish province wanted to keep him but the IRFU insisted the South African had to leave in order to free up a place in the team for an indigenous Irish player.

John Cooney was signed from Connacht as his replacement as he has since gone on to be capped at Test level under Joe Schmidt, appearing four times in the 2019 Six Nations off the bench as a sub for Conor Murray.  

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Pienaar back at Montpellier following compassionate leave, but his future looks uncertain