Ruan Pienaar marvels at Ravenhill progress on and off the field

Ruan Pienaar admits his first sight of Ravenhill left him wondering what he had let himself in for but more than three years on, the South African says he couldn't be happier at Ulster.

"I drove up to Ravenhill the first day I got here and my wife was saying:'Is this it? Is this where you are playing?'" laughs Pienaar, 29.

But some 40 months later, the new modern Ravenhill is nearing completion.

"To see the way the stadium has developed, has been phenomenal."

It may not be the official tape-cutting, but the south Belfast stadium will be at its new extended 18,000 capacity for the Heineken Cup quarter-final against Saracens on 5 April.

The quietly-spoken Pienaar is not making any bold predictions ahead of the mouth-watering European clash but you sense, that it was the prospect of those kind of occasions that helped convince the Springboks star to turn a reportedly lucrative offer from moneybags Heineken Cup holders Toulon in October.

Ruan Pienaar factfile

  • Born 10 March 1983
  • His father Gysie played 13 times for the Springboks
  • Educated at Grey College whose students have included a host of others who went on to play for the Springboks
  • Played on South African U19 and U21 World Cup winning teams
  • Springboks debut against New Zealand 2006
  • Part of South African's World Cup winning squad 2007
  • Played for Natal Sharks for six years before moving to Ulster in 2010
  • Helped Ulster reach 2012 Heineken Cup final

"To have a packed house will be fantastic. The facilities are amazing and it has been a massive, massive step up from when I got here and really enjoyable to be a part of.

"To not be part of that for the next couple of years, with the new Ravenhill, and with the way the team is going at the minute, would have been sad for me."

Perhaps even more influential to his decision to stay put was the fact that his wife Monique is happily settled in Belfast with the couple's daughter 22-month daughter Lemay also having been born in the city.

"We have had a phenomenal time over here and met some unbelievable people.

"I've enjoyed my rugby over here and had some fantastic support from the public and so as a family, we had been really happy over here and my daughter was born here."

Ulster's impressive Heineken Cup win in Leicester last month confirmed Mark Anscombe's side as leading qualifiers for the last eight and led to a mild outbreak of euphoria among supporters and media alike.

However, Pienaar is warning that the real hard work in the Heineken Cup remains ahead for Ulster.

"We'll have to be at our best and to improve loads to progress to a semi-final and a final but we've got the belief and we've got the squad.

"But the only way we will measure success will be if we have got something to show for ourselves at the end of the season. The pool stages are over now."