Kiss hoping for big bonus as red-hot play-off race enters crunch weekend
For Ulster's Director of Rugby Les Kiss, this weekend has been circled on the calendar for some time.
With every side's games in hand now out of the way, and the other teams in the top seven playing each other over the weekend, Ireland's former defence coach has always envisaged the play-off picture being much clearer come Monday morning.
With his own side in action away to Zebre this afternoon (4pm kick-off), and Scarlets taking on Glasgow at the same time, if Ulster don't gain ground on the top four their hopes of taking part in the semi-finals will essentially be over.
"It's been thrown around by the coaches that it's like a mini-season," said Kiss.
"At this stage everyone has three games. There's no catch up games or anything like that.
"Every game matters and we have to get in front of it early which I think we have over the last week and this.
"I've always said that this would be the week that will determine where people sit.
"I can only imagine what Scarlets and Glasgow are thinking about, what they have to deliver.
"Edinburgh, it's a desperate game for them against Leinster and Leinster can really jump forward with a victory.
"Another key game, Munster and Connacht, you can only imagine what their supporters right through to the team are going through.
"Every team is going through a whole heap of emotions, planning, and saying a lot of things but it comes down to delivering it on the weekend.
"It's exciting and I think it's great for the league. We just have to manage what our picture is and make sure we perform as we have to.
"If we go over there and try to slip in and out without what it needs, it'll be a bad day for us."
On dealing with the anticipation of not just a win, but banking the four tries that will bring a bonus point, Kiss added: "The expectation is only what we expect of ourselves.
"To win and do something that can deliver maximum points - it's right for people to expect that of us.
"Every team expects that of themselves and the fanbase expects you to deliver. That's the nature of the business.
"We don't shirk away from it; we know the responsibility that comes with it. We need to do ourselves justice but also position ourselves so that we hit the whistle firing.
"We know that a bonus is the preferable option. It's something that we'll back ourselves to get but we know it won't come just by turning up.
"They're a better team, particularly at home.
"Our focus is on the things that we think will make a difference. Our mantra is point by point, moment by moment, build the pressure and separate the scoreline. If we do that then hopefully we can come out of it.
"I don't think it'll be an easy task but if we're going to get it then we need to do our basics and do things in the logical manner.
"If we don't get a bonus, I don't think it's a death knell but it makes thing easier.
"They will be desperate at home.
"They're fighting for their position and to be in Europe. They're never easy.
"We just have to make it easier for ourselves by being in the right mental space."
Kiss is confident in that regard, saying his team used last week's break well and that senior players have taken ownership of ensuring Ulster get the required result.
"I thought that the meetings we've had, and the sessions we've had, were pretty impressive," he added.
"The core leadership group, of their own volition, got together and had a good chat about things. They understand the importance of it all.
"The indications are there that their minds are all in the right place.
"We spoke about it in the meetings, we've said all the right things before but I believe we'll put ourselves in a good position."