Head coach Les Kiss has urged Ulster to make a fast start this season as they gear up for their opening Guinness PRO12 game against Newport Gwent Dragons on Friday.
The Irish province finished fourth last season and faced Leinster away in the play-offs, which they subsequently lost 30-18.
Ulster did not win back-to-back games until December last year and Kiss is adamant they must hit the ground running to prevent that happening again.
“It’s nice to have a clean slate but that doesn’t guarantee you anything,” Kiss told the Belfast Telegraph.
“It looks good when I put the Xs and Os on the wall but it comes down to 80 minutes against Dragons who will be loaded because every team is a contender at the beginning of the year.
“We’ll meet them and Treviso and everyone is saying, ‘what a great start’. I’ve seen great starts go pear-shaped pretty quickly. We have to make sure we’re armed against that.”
Kiss has been without his international stars for most of preseason, but insists Ulster have been working hard to deal with the loss of key players.
“There’s been a lot of promising things. For us we wanted to challenge the group in the last seven or eight weeks and that was one of the ways we wanted to do that,” he said.
“We’re battling on a lot of fronts with the PRO12, Europe and then the international season.
“To have the return that we have had without the internationals, with four of five key guys injured, the response to that was excellent.
“I’ve taken a lot from it. I’m very pleased but we’re very guarded. The Dragons, with Kingsley Jones, there’ll be a lot of enthusiasm there.
“If we go in under the top level that we need to be at, then we’ll find ourselves in a scrap.”
Guinness PRO12 Final 2017 Ticket Information: Fans can save up to 20% on selected tickets, and prices start at just €30 adults and €5 child, and be booked via www.ticketmaster.ie. For further information visit http://www.pro12rugby.com/final
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