Pienaar became a cult hero during seven successful years with Ulster – making 141 appearances for the Belfast-based side between 2010 and 2017 – before joining French side Montpellier.
But the 88-cap Springbok will return home to South Africa after signing a two-year contract with the Cheetahs and, as they are in Conference A for the 2019/20 Guinness PRO14 season, it means the 35-year-old will face former employers Ulster twice.
Toyota Free State Cheetahs welcomes Ruan Pienaarhttps://t.co/Q74joTBJ4t
— Toyota Cheetahs (@CheetahsRugby) July 10, 2019
One of those game will be an inevitably emotional return to the Kingspan Stadium – the ground he called home during a scintillating spell with the Ulsterman, which included being selected in the league’s Team of the Year for 2010/11 and 2011/12.
The South African was also named Celtic League Player of the Year, an award voted for by his peers, at the end of that 2010/11 campaign.
Always a man for the big occasion, Pienaar scored nine points in the European Cup final loss to Leinster in 2012 before scoring all 18 of Ulster’s points in the PRO12 Final defeat to the same opposition in 2013.
Upon leaving the Irish province in 2017, the No.9 left the door firmly ajar for an eventual return.
— Ulster Rugby (@UlsterRugby) May 6, 2017
“I mentioned to [then CEO Shane Logan] that I’d love to come back and get involved with the club some way,” said Pienaar.
“The family is happy here in Belfast and if we get an opportunity to come back to Belfast, we’ll definitely look at that.
“It’s in our plans at the minute. We don’t know what the future holds in the next two or three years but if we get an opportunity we’ll definitely look at coming back here.
“Rugby is all I know. My dad (Gysie) coached and played, and I grew up on the field. I’d like to give something back. I’d like to try and get involved in business outside rugby as well, so we’ll see what happens.”
A day when Ruan Pienaar scored all the points securing a home quarter final! 👏 pic.twitter.com/10oWuHLARk
— Ulster Rugby (@UlsterRugby) January 17, 2019
Pienaar has plenty of emotional connections to the Cheetahs as well however, having been born in Bloemfontein – where the team are based – and attending Grey College, while his father Gysie also represented the region.
The Cheetahs memorably made the Guinness PRO14 Final Series at the end of their inaugural campaign in the league two years ago before finishing sixth in Conference A last season, with eight wins from 21 games.
But with a bona fide legend leading the way from scrum-half, Hawies Fourie’s side will fancy their chances of surging back into the postseason this time around.