Ulster need to push on and secure second place in PRO14 insists scrum coach Aaron Dundon
With eight points separating second and fourth in Conference B of the Guinness PRO14, there is simply no room for error for those chasing the play-off spots.
With Leinster already securing top spot in the Conference, Benetton, Ulster, Scarlets and Edinburgh are left to battle it out for the other two play-off spots and that prized automatic European Champions Cup qualification for next season.
Ulster are a point behind Benetton as the teams go into Round 18 of 22 and with the Southern Kings coming to Belfast this weekend for the Province’s penultimate home game, there can be no slip ups against the struggling South African side.
Dan McFarland’s side picked up 16 points in four outings during the Six Nations period, a time when Ulster traditionally struggle.
With some other results swinging in their favour during that period before the enforced two-week break it has put them right back in the mix to make the play-offs.
The goal now will be to finish in second place and secure a home tie in the play-off and that means winning on Saturday evening at Kingspan Stadium, and probably taking a full five match points to be sure.
With away games to come against Glasgow and Edinburgh before Leinster come to Belfast on the last day of the regular season, Ulster face a tough run-in.
And this weekend can be seen as a potential banana skin against The Kings who have only won two games this season.
However, they have picked up 12 bonus points - five of those try scoring bonuses, and Ulster are well aware of the danger the South Africans present.
And of course, while the focus is on the game this weekend and what is needed in context of the PRO14, there is the prospect of a massive European Champions Cup quarter-final coming up a week later which is hard not to avoid thinking about.
Ulster scrum coach Aaron Dundon said: “It is a big job this weekend. The Kings, they are near the bottom of the conference but they are a very dangerous team and they have some really attacking threats.
“They have scored some tries and they have a driving maul that we saw against Cardiff so we can’t underestimate them and we want the players to focus on this game.
“The coaching staff have done a bit of work already in regards to looking at Leinster, but we want to go out and do a big performance this week and get a win as it is so important for us in the position we are in the league.
“We have a lot of games coming up, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Leinster that we want to really win to get that second spot (in the Conference).”
He added: “We have had a really good run recently before the break.
“We have put ourselves into a good position now so we can’t be flaky about this.
“We want to get as many points as we can against the Kings and finish the season strong in the PRO14 because that’s a competition we want to do really well in.”
Given the tightness at the top of both Conferences Dundon believes the standard of the PRO14 has shot up.
“It’s been really competitive this year, especially the Italian teams have been doing really well.
“The Kings, they have won a few big games over there, they beat Glasgow, they beat Edinburgh, so if you are not on your day they can beat anyone with the attacking threats they have. The speed they play at and the speed of some of their players.”
This will be Dundon’s penultimate home game of the regular season at least with Ulster as he departs at the end of the season and he has no regrets about his time here.
“I’ve loved it, really enjoyed it massive learnings for me, working with the coaching staff here and the players, it’s been awesome,” he added.
“The boys, especially the forwards, we probably struggled a bit at the start of the year with the forward pack but the last few months we’ve been progressing really well, the line out’s been better, the maul’s been good, the scrum’s good.
“Fair play to the boys, they’ve been working hard at it.”
As for the future, he remained tight lipped however, saying: “Few things in the pipeline I don’t really want to talk about yet,” he added.