Don't write Ulster off yet: Dan Tuohy
Dan Tuohy has warned that Ulster should be judged at the end of the season and not the start.
The province lost their third PRO12 away game in as many attempts this season against Munster a week ago but, ahead of a trip to Dragons on Sunday, the Irish international sees no reason to panic after a vastly improved showing on the road against Anthony Foley's men.
The weekend visit to Newport is a first game in charge for new Director of Rugby Les Kiss, while captain Rory Best will also be included in the panel for the first time since returning from the World Cup.
With European competition commencing the following week - a trip to France to face Oyonnax awaits on November 14 before the visit of Saracens six days later - lock Tuohy is confident Ulster are in fine shape ahead of the crucial set of fixtures, even after losing Tommy Bowe, Iain Henderson and Jared Payne to injuries sustained on national duty.
"It's a bit of a bizarre time for us with three away games on the bounce," said Bristol-born second row Tuohy.
"We would have liked to start that with a win but we'll have had nine days of preparation by the time we face Dragons.
"We've got a mixed history there and we know how big it's going to be to go to Oyonnax and win our first game in Europe.
"With the three internationals injured, they'll not be coming back any time soon.
"It's just a case of managing that and being a collective group as a squad.
"This will be the panel going forward into the first few European fixtures and into the Christmas/New Year games.
"There's still a wealth of experience (returning from Ireland duty) and obviously Ruan (Pienaar) coming back after playing with South Africa at the World Cup.
"To get those guys back is going to be crucial.
"It'll be key for Les and the other coaches to get us singing off the same hymn sheet going into Europe.
"Don't judge us at the start, judge us at the end because we feel we're in a good place."
The 11-times capped 30-year-old - who was in Ireland's extended World Cup training squad but ultimately missed out on the tournament - made his comeback from a concussion against Ulster's southern neighbours at Thomond Park and provided impact from the bench, including the score that brought two bonus points.
In the end, though, he was frustrated that a stolen lineout in the final moments curtailed the attempt to notch what would have been a memorable come-from-behind victory.
"You wouldn't have taken it before the game if somebody offered us two points," he reflected.
"We thought we could go and win and it's scant consolation in the end.
"We gave a few simple tries away and piggybacked a few penalties at crucial times.
"It's another disappointing loss but I suppose there's more positives to take than our last two away trips.
"It was a shame we didn't win the lineout in the corner, that was partly down to myself, so that was frustrating.
"It would have been nice to give it a Munster-esque finish and win late with a driving maul but it wasn't to be. If we had shown a little bit more patience in the 22 we maybe could have gotten over the line."
Ahead of a second trip to Wales this season, Tuohy's skipper Best admits that the need to start picking up wins away from the Kingspan is on the mind of the squad.
Best said: "I wouldn't say it's a cause for concern but it's something that we're very much aware of.
"We're addressing it. With a new coach coming in it's something he can maybe get his teeth into.
"When you look at our training during the week of an away game versus a home game, nothing really changes but it does need mentioned and addressed.
"When you're at home you can get momentum back pretty quickly when you lose it but away it's that little bit harder.
"You need that bit more steel and we know it's something we need to get a lot better at.
"There's no doubt about it, when we lose that momentum away from home we go into our shells a little bit. To address it we need to mention it and not be afraid to mention it."
Pro12 League: Rodney Parade, Dragions v Ulster, Sunday, 2.00 pm