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Tyrone Howe: Forget the rest, Ulster must travel only with victory in mind

Watching Northampton Saints register a fairly straightforward win over Perpignan in the second Heineken semi-final will have provoked conflicting emotions in the Ulster players.

There may have been a sense of deja-vu in terms of memories of the stadium and razzmatazz of the occasion, but the players will have taken great heart in the fact that they presented a far tougher challenge to the Saints than Sunday’s opposition.

The timing of this morale-booster could not be more perfect. As the players look forward to their make or break game against the Dragons, they should be enormously encouraged that, when they generate the intensity, precision and discipline displayed at Stadium MK, they are a match for the top sides in Europe.

There are two key aspects that make Friday evening’s game difficult. Firstly, playing the Dragons at Rodney Parade is never easy. Much the same as Connacht, the Dragons are a tough, resilient bunch up front with a bit more firepower in their backline.

Secondly, looking for at least one point can play tricks with your mind — if you let it.

Like the Heineken Cup game away to Airoini, this game presents a huge mental test, only this time it’s a tougher ground and the opposition is better.

There is no way you can approach such a fixture with the objective of a close defeat, even though that may suffice.

The mindset is clear — the squad must travel to win the game. To do this they will have to summon up every single drop of the same will that saw them emerge from European competition with Ulster Rugby’s reputation enhanced.

Being reminded of their epic game in Milton Keynes will only have whetted Ulster’s appetite for more knockout rugby before the season is out, and that bodes well for Friday evening.

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