Ulster v Munster: Exit will have silver lining, says Ruan Pienaar
If there is one thing Ruan Pienaar will not miss about life at Ulster Rugby, perhaps it's the question of why the province have failed to land a single piece of silverware during his seven-year tenure.
With Pienaar the standard bearer for a group of imports that has included Johann Muller, John Afoa, Pedrie Wannenburg and now Charles Piutau and Marcell Coetzee, talent has never been an issue during his time in Belfast, but the soon-to-be departing Springbok has called on the province to develop a "ruthless" streak if he is to end his career here with a much-longed for trophy come May.
"We get this question every year and I guess we give the same answer," he said of a title drought that now stretches back over a decade.
"That is the aim and something we can definitely achieve.
"I believe we have a good enough team and squad to be in contention but you have to be consistent in performances.
"Les (Kiss) has hammered home this season that every point is important.
"Sometimes you are not going to perform as well as you want to but you still need to grind out those wins. We just need to be ruthless when we get the chance to take teams out.
"I think we are doing well and getting maybe a 10-point lead but then for some reason letting teams back in and the games are getting closer than they should be.
"It is about taking those opportunities, converting them into points and keeping the scoreboard pressure building up. That is maybe an area we have lacked a bit.
"We're looking for consistency. We're creating a lot but just not finishing off those chances."
To that end, Pienaar believes that his side's ability to grind out results in the early stages of the season, despite play that Les Kiss has described as not yet fully clicking, bodes well for the months when those trophies will be on the line.
"All these small things will be big factors come the end of the season," he added.
"It builds character and it builds belief and trust, and when we find ourselves in a situation like that near the end of the season it might be a final or semi-final.
"We know as a team we have been there before and we can do it again even if it isn't always the prettiest way to win a game."
The province enter tonight's interpro with Munster top of the table and, with the importance of a top two finish and home advantage evident throughout the history of the PRO12 play-offs, it is a position they are desperately keen to maintain.
Last season's fourth place finish was largely the product of too many points dropped at home, with one such occasion the New Year defeat at the hands of tonight's opponents.
While front-line Irish internationals are absent - Rory Best, Andrew Trimble, Jared Payne and Iain Henderson are missing - Pienaar says there is no added onus on senior figures that remain.
"We are getting there," he reflected.
"We got the win on the weekend and that is the important thing and hopefully we can get a good performance this week and build momentum going into a crucial part of the season when you lose players to international duty and the other players left need to step in.
"It's the same for me every week, I just try and enjoy my rugby and perform the best that I possibly can and, where I can, help the team.
"I think everyone in the team knows what to expect. Everyone in the team knows what Les expects."
Munster come into the contest with emotions still swirling after the passing of their head coach Anthony Foley a fortnight ago, this just their second game since the former Irish captain's tragic death.
While Ulster will mark the occasion with the placing of a memorial plaque in the away dressing room at Kingspan Stadium, Pienaar has said Ulster must do their best to match the intensity that their opposition will surely bring into the contest after their demolition of Glasgow a week ago.
"It doesn't get any easier for us," said Pienaar. "It will be a tough one against Munster and they have obviously had a tough two weeks with the passing of Anthony Foley and all those emotions. I think it's really spurred them on to perform well for him and what he stood for.
"It will be a really tough challenge because they are a really good team. I don't think we have beaten them in the last couple of games so it is a nice challenge for us and the boys are fired up and ready to go.
"I don't think Munster have changed much over the years, they do the basics well, they have a good pack of forwards and a good back-line. We have analysed them and looked at areas where they have a lot of strength. They are like every Munster team... passionate, a good team and well coached
"It's a big challenge for us and we want to perform well."