Competing in two tournaments right to the end of the season is key for Ulster, and Saturday’s RaboDirect PRO12 game in Cardiff is every bit as important at next week’s Heineken Cup quarter-final, according to assistant coach Neil Doak.
Excitement has been building towards the mouth-watering European tie with Saracens at the new-look Ravenhill next week, but Doak insists the focus of the squad is fully on their vital clash with the Blues on Saturday (Arms Park, 6.30pm).
Ulster currently lie in third place in the standings.
They are five points behind reigning champions and leaders, Leinster and three adrift of Munster.
The top two meet in the Aviva Stadium on Saturday and that potentially gives Ulster an opportunity to go into second place which is vital to securing a crucial home draw in the play-offs.
Ulster must defeat Cardiff for that to happen and Doak insists it is an opportunity not to be missed.
The Blues are attempting to avoid a record sixth straight defeat in the PRO12 while Ulster are aiming to complete the period leading up to the break for European action by making it six wins on the bounce.
Two of those wins were impressive overall performances which yielded crucial try-scoring bonus points, while the other three were scrappy affairs.
Doak said: “Once you get to a certain level the standards that you want to keep are there or thereabouts. There is an expecation from all around.
“Even though you win there is disappointment that you maybe dropped the standards a little.
“For us to have come through the Six Nations period as we did was good. Last year we drew and lost one here or there and things were left very tight at the end of the season.
“At this time of the season as you get into the back end of competitions each game is almost like a knockout affair.
“There is always going to be one big game going into another.
“We want to make sure we focus on Cardiff this week and take them on their merits before thoughts move to next week.
“Yes, it is difficult not to be thinking ahead, and it happens, but for us it is about keeping nudging ourselves ahead in the PRO12 this week, aiming for that top two finish.
“Next week it is a different competition, a different sort of challenge and we will look at it on its merits.”
Ulster welcome back Six Nations championship winners Chris Henry and Andrew Trimble to the starting line-up but Rory Best and Ruan Pienaar are not involved.