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Ospreys v Ulster: Ruan Pienaar is out to make amends after defeat to Scarlets

He apologised afterwards. The kick had been missed and by his reckoning it was important to address the group as he and his team-mates came to terms with defeat, and essentially, European failure.

It was an unfamiliar situation, as we have grown used to Ruan Pienaar doing his job to virtual perfection. We all know the drill by now; penalty to Ulster and up he steps to fire the ball between the sticks to pull another game out of the fire. But not this time. With five minutes to go at the Scarlets, he stood over a penalty which would have inched Ulster a point ahead.

The contact was good and the direction looked fine but then ... it's probably best if the man himself talks us through it.

"It was a swirling wind and I could feel it coming from my right to left," Pienaar recalls.

"And I started it exactly where I wanted it, but it just stayed on that line and even went a bit the other way. When I struck it I felt it was going over and that the wind would bring it around with a little draw."

But it didn't happen and his third shot at goal in the game - he had already kicked a conversion and trademark long-range penalty - stayed out and three minutes later the game was gone after Roger Wilson's attempted pass off the back of a scrum to Pienaar, as they desperately tried to chase the game, was gobbled up by a grateful James Davies.

Even though this match was only his second back for Ulster since damaging his knee ligaments playing for South Africa in September, and last Sunday's game had seen his first attempts from the tee for his province this season, Pienaar blamed himself and made it known.

"Rory (Best) asked me to have a go (at the penalty) and I said 'sorry' after the game," Pienaar said.

"I think if we'd gone one point up there the team would have had enough experience to see the game out."

"I pride myself on my goal-kicking and it is something I work hard on and to miss a kick like that is so disappointing."

"You get some and you don't, but as a kicker you want to get those important kicks."

His technique is not quite where he wants it to be after spending so long out of action and, notably, he didn't have a shot at goal in his return game, the first of the European double-headers against the Scarlets at the Kingspan Stadium when he was actually sin-binned late on.

"I think it was only the second one in my life and I'm hoping I never get another one," is his view on the yellow card, though the win and bonus point were already in the bag.

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As for his kicking, Pienaar admits: "I still feel my knee a little bit when I kick so I'm trying not to kick the ball really hard, I'm just stroking it at the moment and the more reps (repetitions) and the more movement it (the knee) gets it will be easier."

However, Pienaar knows that unless something truly miraculous happens, Ulster will be fighting on just one front come the end of next month's European pool stages so it is crucially important the squad do something of note in the PRO12, starting tonight and the need to bounce back with a win at the Ospreys.

"I don't think there are any alarm bells. We are a strong group and know we didn't perform on the day (at the Scarlets), but we are still alive in the league, we have to get momentum going in the league and hopefully get into a position to get into a home play-off.

"I'd desperately like to win something this year," the World Cup winner adds.

"We have come close of the last couple of years and every year we say we have learned lessons, we can't use excuses anymore.

The hope is that with Pienaar back on board, Ulster will bring greater consistency and match-winning ability to their overall package and even a not fully-firing South African will be sufficient to help land them a play-off spot.

He feels it can be done, and the win can be bagged tonight at the Liberty Stadium, but there is clear frustration that he is still not fully functioning after his knee injury, which kept him out of South Africa's autumn touring squad, flared up again in a fitness test in Dublin.

"It is the second longest I have been out," he admits of the medial ligament problem picked up after an accidental clash with Springbok team-mate Duane Vermeulen

"I was first told the injury would be six to eight weeks and then it took three months and that was the frustrating part.

"There is still a lot of work to do, like getting my confidence with the knee for kicking but it was good to get almost 80 minutes in both games (against the Scarlets)."

"I'll get there, I'll continue to work hard and the good performances will come."

Hopefully the time for apologising is over.