Two of Ulster’s in-form players insist there is a ‘real buzz’ around Ravenhill at the moment.
Ulster may currently sit just outside the Play-Off places, but impressive recent form and a game in hand is ensuring the atmosphere in Belfast is as good as it’s ever been.
Brian McLaughlin’s men have just notched up a hat-trick of successive Magners League wins thanks to Friday night’s victory over Aironi.
And while the performance in that match wasn’t quite up to Ulster’s recent high standards, the superb bonus-point triumph over Play-off rivals Cardiff Blues a week earlier acted as another reminder that the Northern Irish province have what it takes to match their title-winning season of 2005/06.
At the heart of that increasing self-belief is the improving strength in depth at Ravenhill. Despite losing the likes of skipper Rory Best, Tom Court, Simon Danielli, Andrew Trimble and Paddy Wallace to international duty at some point over the last month, Ulster have won each and every one of their games during the Six Nations period.
The fact that they have done so without injured star flanker Stephen Ferris is another great demonstration of Ulster’s squad strength, something that both Court and Ireland A fly-half Ian Humphreys are both keen to focus on.
"I think in the past, whenever Ulster lost Paddy Wallace, Rory Best and Stevie Ferris, they panicked," said Humphreys, who has been at the heart of Ulster’s fine form.
"Now, we’ve got the likes of Craig Gilroy coming in for Andrew Trimble and he’s just one of a number of exciting young guys coming through. Craig’s just a try-scoring machine at the moment.
"Obviously Nevin Spence has broken through massively for us over the last few months. Luke Marshall is another young guy getting his chance with Paddy away.
"It’s a chance for some of these young lads who are performing week in week out in the All Ireland League or for Ulster A. They’re the standout players for whoever they’re playing for, but now this is the perfect opportunity for them to show what they can do in the Magners. They’re thrown in when the team’s still pretty strong so they’ve got the best possible chance to play well.
"There’s a great buzz about Ulster, especially with all the young guys coming through. There’s pressure on everybody to perform. I know there are two young 10s coming through, as well as Niall O’Connor so there’s plenty of good players about and that’s great for the team."
Ian Humphreys hs been impressed by Ulster's young guns
Ireland prop Court shares those thoughts, with the Australian-born tight-head quick to praise the efforts of the Ulster coaching team for the impressive development process at the province.
"Brian (McLaughlin) and David Humphreys and the rest of the management have worked really hard over the last couple of seasons to start bringing the younger guys through in the British & Irish Cup and by giving them experience in the Magners," added Court.
"If you look at the backline for the last few matches, right through from nine to 15, there’s a lot of guys who are 23 or 24 and under and all playing very well. There’s a few young guys coming through in the forwards as well.
"The management are giving opportunities to these young guys to have a crack and see where they stand. When we’re away, the young guys get more time and more opportunities and that’s benefiting everyone up here. It’s really starting to pay dividends."
Tom Court scored for Ulster on his return from Ireland duty
Court started the 23-10 win over Aironi last time out but he missed the match with the Blues as he was away on international duty.
The 30-year-old took his Ireland tally to 16 caps in the win against Scotland at Murrayfield at the end of last month but he insists that returning to his club is always a positive step.
Court’s growing presence on the international scene does bring added pressure, however, and he admits that there is an increased expectation to perform once you start to establish yourself as an international player.
"It’s very positive coming back and it’s great to be back home. There’s a real buzz around here with the way results have gone and the way the boys have been playing.
"It just means there’s more pressure on us to make sure we step it up to that standard and higher. It starts to worry you a bit when the boys in your position are playing so well – you’re worried about whether you’re going to get your spot back when you come home.
"You need to be carrying on (at international standard), if not pushing on more. When you come back there’s going to be an expectation on you to be standing out and making your performance prove the difference.
"You also want to be putting pressure on the guys in the Irish squad, keeping your spot and trying to push on in the national set up.
"You need to be putting in performances when you come home because when you’re with Ireland you may not get a great deal of game time. The games when you come back home are the ones that really count and could make the difference with you staying in the Ireland squad or pushing on."