Ulster play the last of their three pre-season warm-up games tonight with Harlequins providing the opposition at Ravenhill (7.30pm).
A 40-3 first-outing pasting by Bayonne — described by centre Darren Cave as “a wake-up call” — was followed by last Friday night’s 34-15 victory over Neath at The Gnoll.
Tonight’s line-up is minus the big names, for with five players in Ireland’s squad, two on South African duty, one away with Scotland and the arrival of an incoming All Black deferred, the World Cup is taking a hefty toll.
On the plus side, Ulster get to see what exactly they have in the reserve when the star turns are absent.
The non-availability of Paddy Wallace, for example, sees Cave team up in midfield with Nevin Spence, two players who, but for injury, might well have been gearing up for the trip to New Zealand.
Twelve months ago at The Stoop, Harlequins were 24-0 winners of Ulster’s penultimate warm-up fixture. As a result McLaughlin’s men have real respect for the English Aviva Premiership side.
“It’s going to be a very tough game but we’re very much looking forward to it. It’s going to be a real good test to see where we are,” Cave said.
Spence (pictured) recalled: “They were very good last year – very quick and very intense.
“I think they’re only missing a couple to the England (World Cup) team and they’ve only a few injuries so they’ll be very good.”
McLaughlin is presenting tonight’s match as affording a stage on which his players get to impress.
“We feel we’re in good shape. We know what Harlequins are going to bring and we know the way they play,” he explained.
“They’re a very exciting team to watch and we’ve got to make sure that we’re ready for them.
“We’re at home, it’s at Ravenhill, so it’s a crucial game for us.”