JUST a few months ago, Ulster were in perceived to be in crisis mode given a difficult run of results, but a bonus point win on Friday against Edinburgh at Kingspan Stadium (7.35pm, live on Viaplay Sports) will secure second place in the final URC standings.
Already, a home quarter-final in the playoffs is secured, but should things go to plan this week, then they will also be guaranteed a home semi-final - should they get that far - and therefore putting themselves in a strong position in the quest for silverware.
High-flying Leinster have top-spot long since sewn up so a second-place finish is far from disappointing considering the form their Irish rivals have been in throughout the season.
Last week’s home 40-19 bonus point win over the Dragons saw Ulster leapfrog DHL Stormers into second place as the South African club suffered a 26-24 defeat at home to Munster, leaving them one point behind Ulster heading into this weekend’s final round of regular season games.
“For the first time I was happy to see Munster win,” scrum-half John Cooney, formerly of Leinster, said this week.
“They did us a big favour in the win against Stormers, so it’s all to play for and in our hands, which is exactly what we want.
“We come out (on Friday) and get a bonus point, the home semi and home quarter are ours, so it’s huge for us to be at home in front of our fans.
“The prospect of both of them gives us such a good opportunity to go for silverware. I don’t want to get ahead of each game, but we understand the stipulations around it and the importance of this game, so it’s huge.”
Your Ulster team taking on Edinburgh in tomorrow night's crucial @URCOfficial clash 👊— Ulster Rugby (@UlsterRugby) April 20, 2023
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It may seem that it’s set up Ulster to to the needful this week given that Edinburgh are already condemned to miss out on the playoffs and next season’s Champions Cup, but their 45-21 win over Ospreys last week proved that are far from content to simply see out the season.
With a host of Scottish internationals including Jamie Ritchie, Duhan Van Der Merwe, Darcy Graham and Hamish Watson, they have quality in abundance and therefore, Ulster will need no extra warning as to the challenge ahead.
“They are one of the best squads in the league, but haven’t done as well as they would have liked at the start of the season,” Cooney added.
“They are way better than what their league position tells and really good the last day. They’ve heaps of Scottish internationals across the board and a quality outfit.
“They can score from anywhere and we know they are going to come out here with nothing to lose. They’ve nothing to play for, essentially, so they are going to play (open) rugby - it should make for an exciting game.”