Captain Johann Muller reckons that the big-match experiences Ulster have chalked up on the road in Europe during the past two years will stand them in good stead tomorrow.
For while being paired with number one seeds Munster in Limerick is as tough a draw as Ulster could have got, the big South African lock believes that losing to Northampton Saints at the same quarter-final stage 12 months ago, coupled with defeats at Leicester and Clermont in this season’s Pool 4 encounters, have served to add hitherto-absent resolve and know-how to the Ulster side he leads.
“We’ve played in a lot of big games and the experience that we got against Biarritz last year and Clermont this year, and that quarter-final against Northampton, taught us a hell of a lot,” he said.
“Now we need to take that into this game and make sure we don’t repeat the mistakes that cost us on those days.”
Describing the in-camp mood he continued: “The players are really excited, the training has been outstanding, the vibe has been right up there and everybody knows what a big occasion this is. It’s really exciting.
“I think the tough job for us is just to keep everybody nice and calm and relaxed and make sure we take that excitement out on the field and not beforehand.”
Muller — a World Cup participant and Currie Cup winner with South Africa and Sharks respectively — knows all about the latter
stages of big competitions. He feels that the experience of having played in the quarter-finals a year ago has led to a more mature and street-wise Ulster.
“I think that’s a massive thing,” he said. “The only way you get experience is by playing in games like that and learning from those tough experiences.”
Last year was the first time any of the home-grown Ulster players had played in such a high-profile knock-out fixture. Then they were greenhorns. But not now.
“It’s out of the system now, the first one. We’ve got that experience of playing in a quarter-final and (now know) what it takes to win.
“It’s definitely a big thing for us as players to put that behind our backs and make sure we move forward,” Muller said.
The skipper believes that the atmosphere at Thomond Park will be comparable to that in Clermont’s Stade Marcel Michelin where Ulster met the French giants back in January.
“And that takes us a step forward in going down to Limerick this weekend,” he reckoned.