Despite making it three wins from three in the Heineken Champions Cup and wrestling top spot in Pool Three back from Clermont, coach Dan McFarland branded Ulster as not consistently good enough to be classed as a top eight European side.
Ulster went into Saturday’s clash with Harlequins three points behind Clermont after the French side secured at bonus point win the previous night at Bath.
Ulster needed a John Cooney penalty 80 seconds from full time to see off the Londoners 25-24.
“Perhaps over the last couple of weeks, there’s a lot of nice things said about us in the press and I look at those and it makes me nervous, I don’t see us as good as that,” said McFarland.
“I see us a team that can grind out wins but is still in the process of being a consistently good team, we’re not consistent, it’s not that I’m complaining, I don’t actually think we should be consistent at this stage.
“We’re on a journey and we’ve a fair way to go before we’re consistently good,” he added.
“Going into next week we have to reassess where we’re at and make sure we do the fundamentals of the game right; those teams that are consistently competing for championships, Leinster and Saracens, I wouldn’t consider us a top eight team.
“We’re capable of being a top eight team but we have to be on top of our game and perhaps get a little luck along the way to think about quarter-finals consistently, we’re definitely not there yet.
“It’s not that we’re not there, we’ve shown we can be at that but I’m talking about being consistently at that.
“If you roll three teams or four teams off your tongue when someone says ‘who’s the quarter-finalists?’ we’re not one of them, so, Leinster, you put a lot of money on that.”
Ulster have won their three European games by a combined total of seven points.
“I think it tells you a lot about the quality of the opposition - this is Champions Cup rugby, we’re not in a position where we’re guaranteed quarter-finals every year.
“If you sit down and say ‘name me the teams that are going to be in the quarter-finals’, the clubs roll off your tongue and we’re not one of them, that’s the bottom line.
“In terms of facing the challenge of playing these teams in the group, these are massive tasks and we’ve been reminded of that three games in a row.”
Ulster face Harlequins again on Friday night and the coach is hoping for a massive improvement.
“We’ve got Harlequins away and we’ve got Clermont away so if we play like we played Saturday over at The Stoop we haven’t got a chance, I really believe that.
“We have to be a whole heap better than that to even countenance a win.”