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Pienaar: We must rebuild fear factor at the Kingspan

Though his 100th Ulster appearance two weeks ago at Leinster's dreaded RDS was a fairly downbeat affair, the mood music will be even darker if Ruan Pienaar is on the losing side again tomorrow evening.

Indeed, defeat to Toulouse at the Kingspan, in the first of their back-to-back Champions Cup clashes, would pretty much sound the death knell of Ulster's European ambitions in the wake of last month's 27-9 mauling at home to unbeaten Pool One leaders Saracens.

A European exit with just two home games played while also facing the same number of trips to France - after the return clash in Toulouse, the postponed opening encounter at Oyonnax comes early next month - doesn't really bear thinking about but Pienaar finds himself having to handle the uncomfortable scenario.

As he ponders his rallying cry, the 31-year-old glances over his shoulder as the weather provides a momentary distraction as it closes in again with renewed ferocity.

Another foul night like last week's when the squad ground out a much-needed PRO12 victory - but a very costly one in terms of injuries - over Edinburgh just might suit very nicely when a team from southern France spend an evening here.

But Pienaar insists Ulster don't want the conditions to have any significant role. Instead, the overriding consideration is to just stay alive by winning the game which, in turn, will hopefully help rekindle the fraying notion that the Kingspan can again be a fortress in Europe.

"This is a special place for us to play," said Pienaar when addressing what must be done against Toulouse.

"A lot of teams don't like travelling to Belfast and this is a tough place to come to but we've got to make sure that we bring all that back (in Europe).

"Teams need to fear coming here and as players we need to know that and then perform. Against Saracens we let ourselves down and hopefully we can step it up this weekend.

"I think Saracens are an awkward team to play against and they just squeezed us. But this is a different animal we're facing this weekend."

He hasn't met Toulouse in Europe before - Ulster were last drawn with them in the 2006-7 season when the province won at home but lost in the return game - though knows plenty about the side who were heavily beaten at Saracens, on the weekend of the Paris terror attacks, but have been in impressive form domestically and are second in the Top 14 championship

"We have watched lots of footage and preparations have gone well," continued the Springbok who returned from the World Cup with a bronze medal to go with the gold one he secured in 2007.

"The guys are upbeat and are ready to put in a good performance."

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Pienaar knows his own performance will be key to how Ulster utilise their possession.

He humbly acknowledges the praise thrown his way by Edinburgh coach, and fellow South African, Alan Solomons following last weekend's match.

Pienaar also noted that though he was disappointed that he failed to score - in fact, he hasn't touched down for Ulster since last February - at least a penalty try came out of it.

And, as yet, he has not claimed permanent ownership of the kicking tee from Paddy Jackson.

But Pienaar scotches any notions that he may be suffering from burn-out after his punishing schedule between playing for Ulster and being with the Boks for their World Cup campaign.

"I normally get back later than Jacko (after Springbok duties) and he has been kicking well so I'm just not going to take over straight away," he added.

"As long as he kicks well, I'll support him with that. I'll keep training and put in the hours but he is doing well so I wouldn't take the duties off him while he's doing well."

While admitting that the current injury profile is damaging - with Iain Henderson, Peter Nelson, Dan Tuohy and Darren Cave the latest to be sidelined - the South African is adamant that Ulster have the squad strength to cope and that this ought to be seen tomorrow night.

"That is the beauty about sport - you have got to put pressure on yourself and I think this group can handle it," he said.

Now, we're about to find out as only a win will do.

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