Courtney Lawes has warned his Northampton team-mates they must defeat Ulster in today’s Heineken Cup quarter-final if they want to be considered a major force in Europe.
The England lock was part of the Saints side crushed 33-19 by Munster at the same stage last season.
On that occasion the club’s lack of big-match experience was exposed by grizzled European veterans who have been perennial visitors to the competition’s knockout stages.
Ulster at the stadium:mk are a less daunting proposition than Munster at Thomond Park and Lawes claims Northampton are ready to take the next step.
“Munster were tough last year because we were away from home,” said the 22-year-old.
“Munster are a good team and once they get in front they’re hard to beat.
“The main thing we learnt was to keep our heads a bit more and not to panic when you’re under pressure or in a difficult situation.
“We’re a more mature side this year and will do better this time.
“We’ve been here before as a team – it’s virtually the same side as last year.
“We know what we’ve got to do to win and we’re ready to do it
“Our performances over the last couple of weeks give us confidence as well.
“We’ve got a full strength squad and we’ve shown over the past couple of weeks what we can do with that.
“If you want to be considered as one of the biggest clubs in Europe you must show your authority in games like this.
“As a club we’re still improving. The boys came back from the Six Nations on a high and have been playing well.
“Everyone seems to be firing at the moment and we know we might only get this chance once in our career, so we have to go for it.”
Saints enter the tie with only Scotland centre Joe Ansbro missing through injury and restore Phil Dowson at blindside flanker.
The club’s England contingent – Dylan Hartley, Tom Wood, Ben Foden, Chris Ashton and Lawes – have returned to Franklin’s Gardens as Six Nations title winners and are firing on all cylinders.
Lawes, however, has a point to prove after missing the entire tournament - initially because of a knee injury and then through selection.
“I was fit for the Scotland and Ireland games but didn’t get picked and I was gutted about that,” said Lawes, who was a revelation for England last autumn.
“I can use the rest of the season to show that I should be back in that squad.
“I’ve had a good rest – one that I didn’t want – and now I can crack on and help Saints win some silverware.
“You get a lot of experience and confidence from playing international rugby.
“When you come back it always seems to be easier to do what you did before. The boys will take that it into this game.”
Ulster have made one change with Chris Henry coming in at openside flanker in place of Willie Faloon.
In today’s second quarter-final, Biarritz host defending champions Toulouse in San Sebastian in a repeat of last year’s final.
Biarritz will be without France centre Damien Traille. Traille, who has won 81 caps, misses out because of a bruised heel and is replaced by Charles Gimenez.