This time last year Ulster used the back-to-back Champions Cup games against the Scarlets as the launchpad for the rest of the season.
Having started the campaign with one win from two games, they went to Scarlets and edged a 25-24 win before beating the Welsh at home the following week and didn’t look back, using it to propel them into the knockout stages of both Europe and the PRO14.
Twelve months on and they’re in a much stronger position heading into the back-to-back fixtures against Harlequins having already won in Bath and at home to Clermont.
“In some ways Harlequins are in no different a position than we were this time last year,” says Ulster skills coach Dan Soper.
“In round three for us last year, away to Scarlets, we started to take off so Harlequins will feel they are still in the mix, having started with a defeat followed by a win.
“That word momentum is one you like to lean on and keep going. This is the unique period of the season when you play a team back-to-back - you don’t get that in any other competition in the world virtually, so we know how important it is to get a good start this week.”
Safe to say by the time Ulster play ’Quins home and away in the next two weeks they’ll know each other inside out. The good news, though, is that they are a side in form, results are good and apart from Will Addison’s suspension and a niggling injury for Billy Burns they have not too many worries at the moment.
“We probably would have preferred a wee bit longer between games but, sometimes it’ll work in your favour that they are nice and close together when you’ve got momentum and other times, you’ll want a longer break, get guys back who are injured, or guys that are banned back so it is what it is.
Burns sat out last week’s PRO14 win over the Scarlets – a display Kiwi Soper rates as “probably” the best since he joined the Ulster coaching set-up last summer — with a hamstring that he’s been managing in recent weeks.
With not too much cover at fly-half, Ulster badly need him on the pitch with so many big games coming up in Europe and the festive inter-pros, but they must be careful.
“Billy is a day-to-day thing, obviously he had the hamstring issue a couple of weeks ago, each day we’re hoping he gets through what he’s set by the medical staff,” added Soper.
“We are hopeful he keeps tracking...we are just taking it day by day. Often in a position like fly-half sometimes they are at their best when they keep playing so we’ll wait and see. We’re hopeful because we want him to play.”