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The IRFU has defended its succession policy after Ulster confirmed that scrum-half Ruan Pienaar will leave at the end of the 2016-17 season.
Pienaar has scored 777 points since moving to Ulster in 2010 and he had been hoping to sign a new contract with the province only to be told that it was not possible to offer him a new deal due to the IRFU's succession policy.
"I am not moving on for a new adventure or for financial reasons - I wanted to stay and I know that Ulster Rugby did everything it could to keep me in Belfast," Pienaar said.
"I have many great memories of my time here and I have made some brilliant friends within rugby and outside of it. It is sad that this will be my last season as an Ulster player but I will be doing everything to ensure that we make it a successful campaign."
The IRFU introduced the policy in a bid to ensure a minimum of two Irish-qualified players for each position and the governing body is standing over its decision not to award Pienaar a new contract.
In a statement IRFU Performance Director David Nucifora said: "The IRFU recognises the contribution that Ruan Pienaar has made to Ulster Rugby over the seven year period he will have been with the province, however the IRFU informed Ulster Rugby during the 2015/16 season that it would not sanction a further extension of his contract.
"It is vital for both Ulster and Irish rugby that the province develops indigenous talent in this position and an extension of Ruan's contract would further prevent Irish qualified Ulster players from maximising their developmental potential and becoming stars for both Ulster and Ireland."
Operations Director Bryn Cunningham and Director of Rugby Les Kiss have been working with the IRFU over the past six months in a bid to reach a solution.
Kiss is disappointed at the prospect of losing the South Africa international but hopes he will be in a position to return to the province in the future.
"Ruan has been an outstanding servant to Ulster Rugby over the past six years and he will be a huge loss for us next season. For me, he is a fantastic player, but he is an even better person, who is much-loved by his team-mates, the staff and management, and the wider rugby community here in Ulster," he said.
"His influence within the squad, both on and off the field, is truly remarkable; whether that is through match-winning contributions, or mentoring the promising players coming through our pathway. Indeed, he has played a big part in helping us to develop a large group of talented young backline players who have gone on to represent Ireland in recent years.
"He is a consummate professional and I have absolutely no doubt that he will give everything to the Ulster cause for the rest of the season. Our hope is that he will one day return to the Province to continue to have a positive impact on rugby in Ulster."
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