Ulster must recapture Aviva spirit to beat Edinburgh, says Sean Reidy
It's been a year and a week since Ulster were last in Edinburgh, the side then led by Jono Gibbes breaking a three-game losing streak with a bonus point win that sparked a five-game unbeaten run and took them into this season's Champions Cup.
Tonight (7.35pm kick-off) the stakes are even higher, although the stakes are not quite so dire.
The northern province visit Scotland's national stadium having dropped their last two contests, to Leinster in the Champions Cup quarters and against Glasgow last time out, but go into the game knowing that victory against Richard Cockerill's men will secure a return to the PRO14 play-offs after a two-year absence and could even be enough to book a home tie in the first round depending on how Benetton fare when hosting Munster.
Despite the recent set-backs, the contrast between the mood surrounding Ulster as they prepare for this fixture in consecutive springtimes is stark.
"It's good to be playing for something," said flanker Sean Reidy who starts on the bench tonight.
"I remember that time last year, we were going through a rough patch and that (beating Edinburgh) was a step in the right direction.
"Last year we were struggling and now we're right in the mix with things in our own hands.
"That's where you want to be, you don't want to be hoping other teams are going to slip up. We're at a stage now where we're really going in the right direction but it's important we put our best foot forward.
"It's come around quick, the end of the season. You blink after Christmas and there it is on the home stretch. We're looking forward to going over there and putting in a good performance.
"There's not much between second and fifth so it's crucial that we go over there and play our best rugby.
"We're aiming for that home quarter-final and, you know how hard it is for teams coming here, anything can happen."
If Ulster are to take a giant leap towards that goal this evening, they will need to offer a performance significantly improved from last week's in Glasgow. The 30-7 loss at Scotstoun featured a number of missed opportunities as well as multiple misfires in both areas of the set-piece.
"We need to get rid of those errors, get the set-piece back to where it needs to be and that should be critical in getting us a bit more ball in hand and playing some rugby," added Reidy.
"They've a pretty strong set of (forward) options, one of the better ones in the competition. We need to be on the money but especially as a loose forward unit. I think we're really targeting (the breakdown) this week.
"Glasgow targeted us there and got some good rewards. It's hard to put a finger on why. I think they were maybe more up for it than we were. It's a tough place to go, especially into that wind.
"A few drops, a few passes that we didn't need to throw and all of a sudden they're on top of us."
For Dan McFarland, who cut his coaching teeth as a forwards specialist, the areas of concern emanating from Glasgow will have stung.
"If anything it gets more difficult as Edinburgh's scrum is better than Glasgow's and so is their lineout so a huge part of their game is their set-piece," said the man who left a job at Murrayfield coaching Scotland's pack to take up the head gig at Ulster.
"We'll have to improve. We've trained twice this week and though it's a seven-day turnaround that's necessary.
"We feel we've done some good work and I'd expect us to improve there (at set-piece time). It's going to be a stiff test up front but we're prepared for that."
Despite both games ending in defeat, with their play-off hopes hanging in the balance the key will likely be Ulster's ability to replicate the intensity of their performance against Leinster at the Aviva two weeks ago, something they were unable to do against Glasgow.
"If you are at a stage where you are used to playing massive games in play-off situations then the drop off either side of that (peak) is not as big," he said.
"The emotional peak for us was probably more intense than it was for Leinster. Leinster are always playing play-off games so they are used to that.
"In terms of managing that, one thing for the Glasgow game was that we wanted to have the players physically fresh, which we did and that worked really well. In terms of the mental hangover, we managed the week pretty well in terms of the timings, however I suspect we never totally dusted that off.
"We certainly did not rise to the intensity that we needed to in the Glasgow game."