Coach Neil Doak insists Ulster must go up a gear if they are to beat Munster in PRO12 clash
Ulster coach Neil Doak has said his side must improve upon their victorious performance against Leinster if they are to seal a third consecutive interpro win when Munster visit the Kingspan Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
A 26-10 victory against Matt O'Connor's men two weeks ago maintained Ulster's push for a home semi-final, and brought many plaudits but, with the Thomond Park outfit in a significantly richer vein of form than their D4 counterparts, Doak feels a similar showing this weekend would not be enough to put his side back in the driving seat to secure second place in the standings.
"We know that the way we played against Leinster two weeks ago probably won't be good enough," he admitted.
"We'll need to step it up again because Munster are going pretty well and after having a pretty comprehensive win against Treviso last time out they'll be coming up here quite buoyant."
With just two rounds of fixtures remaining, and given that fourth placed Ospreys will host table-topping Glasgow the previous evening - a contest that sees the league's best performing home side host its strongest travellers - Saturday will go a long way to settling the Pro12's murky play-off picture.
Doak, however, is keen to focus on little more than the 80 minutes at hand.
"There are so many permutations at this time of year that you could look at but going down to the last day there'll still be a lot in play.
"You don't want to focus on it too much.
"There's a lot to play for and we've just to make sure that we focus on Munster and put all our efforts into beating them.
"We've got to focus on ourselves and then the other results will take care of themselves."
Matters, of course, would be weighted far more heavily in Ulster's favour had a wayward conversion in the dying seconds not ensured they took only one point instead of four from the reverse fixture back in November, but Doak feels the side can take a lesson from that frustrating evening in Limerick.
"We had a good start to the game and fell off a little bit," he lamented.
"We were a bit disappointed that we didn't get a penalty try at the end which would have made the kick a bit easier but, saying that, those are the small chances that you have to take.
"All season, against the big teams, if they give you any small openings then you've got to kick the door down and get right through it. If you don't, you'll get punished."
The coach also allayed fears that Ruan Pienaar could miss Saturday's game with an ankle injury.
The star Springbok was seen in a protective boot at the Ulster Rugby awards dinner last Friday night but Doak confirmed that it was merely a precaution.
He said: "He just twisted his ankle a little bit but he ran this morning so there shouldn't be a problem there.
"None of the long-term (injured) are coming back in but other than that everyone from the last time out is fighting fit."
With Darren Cave also overcoming a knock, that means an opportunity for Ulster to name the same starting XV for a third game in succession, a luxury afforded to few sides at this time of year.
While stating that there are players in the squad putting pressure on those who banked nine points in the games against Connacht and Leinster, he admitted that a settled team could be crucial down the stretch.
"It's about getting that little bit of consistency and getting guys feeling comfortable at this stage of the season," said the former Ireland 'A' international.
"After the early turmoil with the injuries and a couple bans, it makes a big difference that you don't have those headaches anymore of waiting to see who is going to be about and who isn't."