With five Celtic League titles and four Heineken Cups between them Munster and Leinster have been the dominant forces in Irish rugby for the last decade.
Despite being the first province to taste success on the European scene, Ulster by comparison had slipped behind their domestic rivals.
However according to their South African World Cup winner and talismanic scrum-half Ruan Pienaar the recent rise of the Ravenhill outfit is only the beginning.
While a RaboDirect PRO12 play-off spot now looks a long shot after last week’s loss to Leinster, it was their success at Thomond Park the previous week to dump Munster out of Europe which was proof that Ulster are catching their illustrious countrymen.
Led by Pienaar – already regarded as one of the greatest overseas signings in the club’s history – Ulster have followed up last year’s European quarter-final with a home semi-final date against RaboDirect PRO12 rivals Edinburgh with a potential chance of revenge against Leinster in the final.
And having watched the two Irish giants enjoy so much success both domestically and on the European scene in recent years, Pienaar admits that the model for success has been on their doorstep all along.
“If you look at Munster and Leinster they have been the top sides in Ireland for the last few years,” said Pienaar, who has 51 Springbok caps to his name.
“We are striving to emulate that success and we are trying to put together a squad which can compete with them and we are slowly getting there.
“The Munster win was a huge result for us and we really worked for each other in that game.
“There’s no reason why we can’t go on and from a personal point of view I have really enjoyed my second season here just as I did my first.
“It’s been a long tough season but we have got a couple of really big games coming up and everyone is excited about them.”
At 28, Pienaar is one of a number of experienced South African internationals involved at Ravenhill alongside some exciting young Irish talent.
Skipper Johann Muller scored his first try in the RaboDirect PRO12 clash with Leinster while Stefan Terblanche has made a huge impact since arriving as an injury replacement for Jared Payne.
And according to Pienaar the future is bright with the likes of Craig Gilroy and Darren Cave making their mark in the first team.
He added: “We have got a really nice mix of experience and youth at the club which bodes well looking forward.
“Some of the younger guys are really stepping up and in the next couple of years we should only be getting stronger.”