Champions Cup: Cautious Rory Best is prepared for the threat posed by minnows Oyonnax
Despite the looming presence of European heavyweights Toulouse and Saracens in Pool 1, Ulster skipper Rory Best has warned there must be no looking beyond Saturday's Champions Cup opener with Oyonnax.
The relative minnows are taking part in the premier competition for the first time but Best has stressed that their qualification from the ultra-competitive Top14 renders them a force to be reckoned with even if they have struggled domestically this season.
"There aren't any easy pool games anymore," said the captain who made his first appearance since the World Cup against Newport on Sunday.
"As a professional rugby player you want to be pushed as far as you can and there is no doubt the revamped competition pushes you because you need to be at the top of your game every week or you lose.
"As we have seen in the past, if you lose a couple of games early on then there is massive pressure because you really can't afford any slip-ups.
"It's going to be tough for us first up. We are going away to Oyonnax and it is their first ever time at the top level in Europe and they are at home, they are going to want a good start and I'm sure their crowd are looking for a big performance.
"It is going to be tough but at the same time, going to these sort of intimidating atmospheres makes you raise your game a little bit and, while it is going to be an unbelievable challenge for us, it is one we are relishing.
"It is the pinnacle of club rugby in Europe. It is a chance to pit yourself against teams you don't play week in, week out; you get to play against some of the top players in the world and see how good we are and see how good we can be."
The eagerly awaited home clash with Saracens - a first meeting since the controversial quarter-final of 2014 that saw Jared Payne red-carded after just four minutes - follows next week but Best knows that game will lose some of its lustre if Ulster start with a defeat.
"They have been there in the last couple of years and won a massive quarter-final so they will fancy their chances again," he said.
"For us, we just have to focus on that first game and come through it as unscathed as possible and rebuild and refocus for a big home game for us."
With Sunday's win at Dragons lifting Ulster into fifth in the PRO12, one outside the play-off places but just six points off leaders Connacht, Best dismissed the notion that one competition should take precedence over the other.
"Every year we want to reach the quarter-finals in Europe and the top four in the league and we have found if you do one the other generally follows as well," he said.
"We are sitting reasonably well placed in the league but we want to push up and set ourselves up really well for December."
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