Time’s the king of men; he’s both their parent, and he is their grave, and gives them what he will, not what they crave.
Perhaps with one notable exception. Ruan Pienaar may not control time, but he always seems to have much more at his disposal than anyone else.
In recent matches Ulster have been an orchestra without their conductor -many fine musicians but without that special someone seamlessly knitting them together -that changed against Glasgow with Pienaar’s return from injury.
And it’s not just about his individual contribution over 80 minutes, other players appear elevated playing alongside him.
Not since David Humphreys in his prime has one player meant so much to Ulster both on and off the pitch.
Glasgow weren’t at their best on Saturday, no doubt in part due to Six Nations disruptions, but Ulster did what they had to do and beat what was in front of them.
The forwards, although not yet dominant, are clearly benefitting from Marcell Coetzee’s presence in the back row and they secured enough possession for the talented backline to run their plays -a backline without Paddy Jackson, Charles Piutau, Stuart McCloskey and Andrew Trimble.
Mention should go to Luke Marshall who seems to have really grown in influence. Maybe with his concussion problems now behind him he values game time even more than he did in the past.
With Zebre this weekend and the prospect of another bonus point win Ulster still can close the gap on the top four but in truth they should never have been this far behind.
It’s high time the Ulster hierarchy explicitly petition the IRFU to reconsider their ban on Pienaar getting a contract extension.
Individual development as a player comes from playing alongside great players. I personally credit David Humphreys for helping me develop into an international back row. He was never short of sound advice on the pitch which without a doubt improved me as a player.
Looking already to next season at Ulster only Coetzee, Piutau and Arno Botha won’t be, at any stage, eligible for Ireland. I know there is talk of something additional in the front row but no prop in the world could bring to this team what Pienaar already does.
Munster negotiated two non-qualified centres and Saili and Taute in addition to Chisholm, whilst Leinster have managed to re-sign Nacewa and retain Kirchener -two fullbacks. That means the IRFU policy clearly has flexibility at the margins.
The re-signing of Nacewa caused “Irish” talent to depart, yet it’s hard to see how the retention of Ruan Pienaar would. It leaves many fans feeling that when comes to a player well-known to David Nucifora, IRFU performance Director, the flexibilities are operating at the maximum.
If Ruan was a Kiwi or Aussie who had played at Leinster and caressed the Irish media with his love of Dublin and the RDS, would the outcome be the same?
If the answer is possibly a “no” then Ulster must at the very least give consideration to plotting their own course.
In the era of professional rugby maybe the historic provincial structure is in some ways outdated. The idea that it’s acceptable for Ulster to divest themselves of their capacity to resist decisions which neither the club nor the fans see as being in their interests -is patently wrong.
Ultimately Ulster Rugby are responsible to the large number of fans who pay to watch the team week in week out -much more than the IRFU policy of the day. Because if the fans feel they aren’t been listened to and vote with their feet the policy will soon change.
Given the shared local penchant for protest it is a little surprising we have yet to get beyond strong murmurings of disquiet -but don’t think it will simply dissipate with a few good results, it won’t.
The fans’ anger about the treatment of Ruan is heartful and sincere and as they witness him pouring everything into his remaining games it will only grow.
In the absence of a rethink in Dublin and a co-ordinated face-saving U-turn -it is in Ulster’s interest to at least consider rebalancing their relationship with the IRFU -with R-exit held back as a nuclear option.
I don’t believe Ulster fans will allow their club to lose its integrity and identity in fawning servitude to the IRFU -and if Pienaar is forced to leave at the end of the season relationships will suffer lasting damage.
Cry “Havoc,” and let slip the dogs of war.
Neil Best, Pundit Arena
On this week’s Oval Office Podcast, Rob Henderson tells us about Ireland’s 12 potential Lions, Paddy Butler identifies weaknesses in the French game plan, Mako Vunipola discusses the challenge of facing Tadhg Furlong and historian David Toms relives Ireland’s 2007 clash with England in Croke Park.