Small margins separate a very good season from a title-winning one and Alan O’Connor says Ulster have identified three areas where they need to add an extra one per cent in order to get over the line in big games.
The club has built on a decent first year under head coach Dan McFarland. Last season they reached the knockout stages of both the PRO14 and Champions Cup, and are well on course to do so again as a home win over Bath on Saturday will secure a place in the quarter-finals.
But they have come up short in crunch away games at Clermont in Europe last Saturday and in the league at Leinster, Munster and the Cheetahs. And those away defeats look like costing them home advantage when the knockout games come around in the spring.
“Obviously we are turning up with a lot of intent and we’re coming up with good game plans, which we must be executing at times because we are in those games,” said lock O’Connor.
“It just comes down to maybe a bit of precision or decision-making or execution. They’re the three things that we are maybe lacking a bit.
“But you can’t fault the intent and the mindset going over there.
“It’s a massive challenge going to Clermont, say. Everyone who knows rugby knows what the stadium is and how special it is. It was an honour to play there but we would have liked to get a result.
Against Munster, I know we lost the game but we still went down and performed fairly well and fronted up well.
“Once you get those things, we just need to work on the final little per cents.”
Bath are likely to be understrength again this weekend and have nothing to play for, but O’Connor is wary of a quality side playing with zero pressure.
“They have class players who don’t have much to lose and they love playing rugby, so that makes them dangerous.
“The coach will be saying ‘it doesn’t really matter what you do, you can throw as many 50-50s as you want’ and they have threats all over the place.
“If you give those guys licence to so what they want the likelihood is they will pull something good out, so we have to be on the money and if they want to come and play loose, we have to make sure we’re nice and tight.”
Ulster have not lost at Kingspan since October 2018 and Bath are unlikely to be ones to bring that outstanding home record to an end.
“The past two games were sold out and it’s always special here,” added O’Connor.
“Everyone else seems to think we are doing something special as well so we just have to keep everyone on the field, turn up with the right attitude and knock their attitude out of them.”