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Munster v Ulster: Every game is like a final now for us, says Ruan Pienaar

Departing star believes Ulster must recapture the spirit of 2012 to beat favourites in their own backyard and keep season alive

By Jonathan Bradley

With his Ulster career winding towards a close, Ruan Pienaar is hoping to recreate one of his finest memories in the white jersey as Les Kiss's men travel to Thomond Park to face Munster this afternoon (3pm kick-off).

It was here, in the famed Limerick citadel, where five years and one week ago the northern province shocked the rugby world by overcoming the two-time European champions in their own backyard to advance to the Heineken Cup semi-finals.

Whether it was the solo try from Craig Gilroy, the sheer power of John Afoa at the coalface, or the tireless determination of Stephen Ferris, the memorable performances that day were numerous, with Pienaar making his own crucial contributions with penalties dotted around the halfway line knocked between the posts.

It was a day that then head coach Brian McLaughlin described as the best of his rugby life and it's right up there for Pienaar too.

"That was a special game in a special season," recalled the peerless scrum-half.

"It still feels fresh in the memory even though it was a while ago now.

"Craig Gilroy scored that brilliant try and we took a few of our chances. It would be great if we could repeat that performance but it's going to be a massive challenge.

"They're a physical team, they're well coached, and it's been a brilliant season for them."

While few in attendance for that quarter-final will ever forget the dedication to the cause shown by the visitors, Pienaar has called for today's squad to match those heights.

"It was a really passionate performance and it was a team that was full of pride and passion to perform well for Ulster.

"I think we need a bit of that, to bring that back to the jersey. Play with pride and play with passion because we know what it will take."

After last week's home draw with Cardiff Blues, Ulster's margin for error is virtually nil if they are to add to their streak of four consecutive PRO12 play-off berths. While Munster already seem sure of a home semi-final thanks to their place in the top two, as well as having the small matter of a Champions Cup tie against Saracens next weekend, they have still rolled out the big guns in their selection.

And so, with Ulster's season on the line, Pienaar believes a statement-making victory would not only help to benefit this campaign, but be a boost for years to come.

"I don't think it's important for just this season but it's important for the players who will be here next year to know that they can do this," he said,

"They can go to places like Thomond and beat a really good Munster team.

"In the long run this will mean a lot to Ulster, the squad, and the coaching staff moving forward to next season.

"It's massive and every game is like a final now for us. We need to show as players that we can step up and perform when that pressure is on and the occasion demands it.

"We've lost against them at home a few times which is always tough. It's been a tough run against them. I don't think that's what we need to focus on.

"The focus for us has to be on this last three games.

"I think it's always a challenge, it's one of the biggest in the league going to Munster.

"They're playing some of the best rugby in the league at the minute and if we don't front up and perform it's going to be a long day for us.

"We have to prepare well and be accurate in everything we do. It would be great to get the result get down there."

As Pienaar talks of the "players who will be here next year" it offers yet another reminder that his time at Kingspan Stadium is short.

With the ink long since dried on the contract with his future employers - a two-year deal with Montpellier is expected to be confirmed in the coming weeks - after his IRFU enforced exit, Pienaar said recently that he had something of a feeling Ulster will end up paired with the French side in the Champions Cup during his tenure.

Having seen former team-mate Nick Williams come back to Belfast in Cardiff colours last week, the 88-times capped Springbok admitted he hopes to never experience the same.

"I think I sort of thought about it afterwards," he reflected. "Nick was one of the favourites with the fans, but he was one of the favourites within the squad as well. He didn't want to move on either but it was nice to see him back here.

"It's not always nice to play against him because he's a beast but it was good to catch up. I'm sure it was strange.

"For me, hopefully it won't ever happen but I'm just thinking about this weekend."

Given what's at stake for his side, perhaps that's understandable.

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