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Leinster v Ulster Pro12 semi-final: We can end RDS jinx vows Ruan Pienaar

Springbok insists past knockout misery and poor Dublin record count for nothing as he sets sights on title glory

By Michael Sadlier

It all feels so uncomfortably familiar that even Ruan Pienaar's assertion that he likes playing on the RDS surface doesn't hugely alter the background to tomorrow evening.

It's Leinster, it's fortress RDS and it's knockout rugby. Put them together - or some combination of them as 2012's Heineken Cup final thrashing was at Twickenham - and what has unfolded has been the same misery for Ulster every time the sides have met.

Even the regulation season encounters in Dublin have also offered little consolation. Ulster just don't seem to do Leinster outside their back yard.

Pienaar smiles and does his best to say something about the situation without straying too far towards how, this time, Ulster truly believe that it is all about to change.

And, in fairness, what more can be said in the wake of their failure to make it past the league's semi-final stages in 2011 and 2014 - both defeats to Leinster - while last year's agony in Glasgow seemed to trump everything that had gone before.

Yes, the spectre of Scotstoun even eclipses the league final defeat of three years ago when Ulster ended up playing their 'home' showdown for silverware at the RDS and lost again to the ground's occupants.

"This is a new season and a new game and we don't need to get caught up in all the emotions of the past," says Pienaar while not dwelling on another worrying stat - no away side has won a PRO12 semi-final in 10 previous games.

And yet there is still a real sense that this could be the moment for a change in fortune and not just because Ulster go into this play-off having hit their straps of late. For Pienaar, it's also highly personal.

At 32, and with one more year left on his existing deal -though he has hinted at being willing to stay on - he knows that time is hardly on his side if his dream of securing some silverware at Ulster is to be finally realised after arriving here back in autumn 2010.

"We play because we enjoy it and because we want to win something," says the 88-times capped Springbok who, in all likelihood, has probably played his last game for his country.

"That drives me every day, to try and lift something with this club. That is my ultimate goal before I leave here.

"Being a part of this squad and only coming close in not only finals, but semi-finals as well, has been tough. The chances might be lessening and, for me, I would like to win something with this club.

"So this will be really special (to beat Leinster) and then possibly be able to have a trophy to show for it all when my time comes to an end here at Ulster."

It could be argued that Paddy Jackson's emergence as Ulster's leading playmaker - and kicker - means that the squad has shifted away from relying on Pienaar. Maybe, but he is still an important player.

Indeed, he reminded us all of what he can do when the sides met in Belfast last month and a neat break caused panic in Leinster's ranks which led to Rob Kearney body-checking Ulster's No.9 and a penalty try going the home side's way.

He smiles at the memory of the 30-6 thrashing and, when pushed, admits that perhaps he did milk the situation a bit but there is no equivocation when he discusses Jackson.

"Paddy's been fantastic this season," he states. "He's been kicking really well too and I haven't had a chance but when I see a fly-half playing so well I know I'm doing my job.

"For me it's about keeping him calm and trying to give advice, but he's made such a massive step up this season and he's one of the leaders."

There is no escaping matters Leinster for long, however.

"Being under pressure the past month has helped us mentally," he says of Ulster's notable battle to make fourth.

"The small margins will determine a lot and hopefully we've learned what we're capable of when the pressure is on."

Leinster will turn the screw, so might there be some inner demons lurking over Ulster's previous down in Dublin?

He added: "What's in the past, is in the past. There's 80 minutes in front of us and that's all we are focusing on."

It's about time Ulster's actions spoke louder than their carefully chosen words.



Guinness Pro12 League semi-final:

RDS, Friday, 7.45pm

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