STOPPING the rot is of the utmost importance for Ulster at The Sportsground in Galway on Friday night as they bid to end a three-game losing streak as they face Connacht (7.35pm, live on RTE).

December has turned into a bit of a nightmare for Dan McFarland’s side as after blowing a good lead against Leinster at the RDS in the URC, they then endured a dismal day in the European Champions Cup away to Sale where they were held scoreless.

Last weekend, things didn’t get any better as the build-up to a scheduled home game against European champions Stade Rochelais was thrown into doubt due to freezing temperatures, but despite the forecast for Saturday looking better, the game was stitched to Dublin’s Aviva Stadium with no Ulster fans permitted at the behest of the tournament organisers.

It was far from an ideal preparation but again, Ulster faltered and trailed 29-0 at the break, yet one bright point was their second-half recovery as they got to within a converted try and picked up two bonus points in the process.

That haul may not be enough to help them advance into the knockout stages of the premier competition, but such thoughts can be parked as it’s back to domestic action this week with an inter-pro in the road before they host Munster on New Year’s Day.

Last week’s game saw the injury list grow loner again with Billy Burns (concussion) and Rob Herring (ribs) set to miss out on Friday, while Angus Curtis suffered a knee injury playing for the Ulster ‘A’ team against Ealing Trailfinders on Friday, and he too is currently unavailable for selection.

These players join Will Addison (lower leg), Rob Baloucoune (hamstring), James Hume (concussion), Ian Madigan (knee), Tom O’Toole (abdomen), Jude Postlethwaite (shoulder), Jacob Stockdale (ankle), Aaron Sexton (hand) on the current injured players’ list.

Therefore, Ulster’s task will be great this Friday as they head west to face a side on a three-game winning streak including back-to-back victories in the European Challenge Cup, in stark contrast to their own form.

“This game is going to be a massive challenge regardless of what happened last weekend,” said Ulster assistant coach Dan Soper.

“Connacht have found form recently and it’ll be our first time on the new surface at the Sportsground, so that’s going to add to the challenge. We don’t have any option other than to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves down and get into this week like any other week.”

Confidence may be rattled in the Ulster camp after their poor run, but those games have all come against top-class opposition and the challenge will be to find a way to put their best foot forward this Friday in order to turn things around.

They are still in a fairly healthy league position so should they get back to winning ways against their Irish rivals over the next couple of weeks, it may help lift them and push them on to achieve what they have targeted this season.

“Look, we’ve played three really tough fixtures and we haven’t performed as well as we wanted to,” Soper added.

“One thing about this group is we’ve stood up to challenges in the past and we hope that the next two weeks, with two derbies, we do the same.

“In our league, we know how important it is to keep notching up these wins and it could mean home advantage in the playoffs. That’s what we want, to have home playoff rugby, and we need to perform at this time of year to put us at the top.”