Ulster moved up to second place in Conference A after making it four wins from five games by beating Zebre at Kingspan on Friday.
The 22-7 win saw Dan McFarland’s side leapfrog the Cheetahs but the failure to get the bonus point against the Italians meant Leinster extended their cushion over after Ulster to five points after they scored eight tries in a 50-15 win over the Dragons at the RDS.
Ulster scored three tries against Zebre and had plenty of opportunities to get a fourth try including having a Rob Herring try disallowed for an illegal block in the build-up.
“Zebre play hard and worked really hard and credit to them in these conditions with coming off the line in defence and they are physical,” said McFarland.
“We found that difficult and we found it difficult to make inroads at certain points in the game but we managed to get the win.
“They scored very early and didn’t score after that so you’ve got to be pretty pleased that you’re winning.”
Ulster travel to Thomond Park on Saturday where last year they suffered their biggest ever defeat, going down 64-7 to Munster.
McFarland is hoping to have Ireland World Cup players Iain Henderson and Jacob Stockdale back for the trip to Limerick.
“Maybe some coaches will say ‘it’s just another game’ - no it isn’t, it is an interprovincial game and a lot of them at Christmas are beset now with players being rested and you don’t necessarily get the sparkle at all of those of international players playing,” McFarland added.
“But I suspect there’ll be a few international players on Saturday so it’s going to be a great game to watch and hopefully we can put on a performance there.”
With Bath and Clermont looming on the horizon in the European Cup McFarland is hoping to put out his strongest available side in Limerick.
“The internationals are available to play in that game, so the World Cup players are available (and) whether we play them or not we’ll make a decision in the week, but I’d say we might integrate them into the team now that we’ve got Europe coming up.”
Ulster’s early season injury woes continued with Will Addision leaving the pitch against Zebre after only 16 minutes with an arm injury and Louie Ludik’s night was also cut short after picking up a knock, but winger Robert Baloucoune is set to return at Thomond Park after recovering from a knee injury.
“So far this season we’ve had to chop and change a little bit and we haven’t really got much consistency in positional link-ups whether at half-back or in the centre or back three,” said McFarland.
“Up front has been a little different as we have found some continuity there.
“It’s frustrating but it is what it is and guys jump in. Last year we were in a worse position right at the beginning of the season but the likes of James Hume and Michael Lowry had to play then and people know their names now.”