There could be a major changing of the guard at Ravenhill ahead of the 2014-15 season with four of the current five ‘foreign’ players potentially leaving Ulster at the end of the current campaign.
As further speculation mounted on Thursday – when it was claimed Ulster’s South African scrumhalf, Ruan Pienaar, had agreed a two-year deal with reigning Heineken Cup champions, Toulon – there were also rumours that All Black World Cup winning prop, John Afoa, had been approached by a Japanese club.
The news does not come as a major surprise as both Pienaar and Afoa are out of contract with Ulster at the end of the current season. The same is the case for two more overseas players, South African Johann Muller and Polynesian Nick Williams.
The fifth – New Zealander Jared Payne – will become Irish qualified meaning Ulster could be on the search for five new ‘foreign’ players.
In respect of Pienaar, Ulster would probably have been keen to offer him a further one year extension to his contract.
While reports in French newspaper, L’Equipe, have yet to be confirmed, it could be some time before any potential deal is confirmed.
As a normal rule, Ulster do not discuss contractural matters – although there was an exception made when Pedrie Wanneburg signed for Castres two seasons ago. Toulon cannot make comment about new signings until April next year under the rules of the French League– explaining the silence from both on the speculation.
Ulster director of rugby, David Humphreys could find himself a busy man in the coming season as he looks for potential replacements for the overseas quintet – he has probably started already.