Ulster captain Rory Best believes Ulster have the consistency and the armoury to go into the final two rounds of Europe and be serious contenders for a knockout place.
The Irish Province secured a full haul of 10 points in their back-to-back games against Scarlets winning 30-15 on a miserable evening at Kingspan Stadium on Friday night.
The victory followed on from a 25-24 success in Llanelli a week earlier and left them second in the table, five points behind leaders Racing 92, who also picked up 10 points in their back to back games over Leicester Tigers.
At this stage a year ago, Ulster were well placed to advance their case for a last eight spot, but inevitably failed.
Racing 92 come to Belfast in January for a pivotal game before Ulster go to Leicester. As it stands Ulster will probably need five points to be certain of progression even as a best runner-up.
Captain Best, with blooding oozing out of a left eye wound picked up early in the game in a collision with Scarlets Jake Ball, believes Ulster are in a better place this time around.
Best said: “I think this time last year we in a similarish position in Europe, but I think the manner in which we were getting there, we were a bit start stop, a bit moment of genius play and moment of fairly average play and I think we have a little bit more consistency now.
“We will not get carried away and I know Dan (McFarland, head coach) probably said that before I came in here.
“We have to be aware of what got us to this point - 14 points in Europe and that is a lot of hard work and a lot of wanting to learn and wanting to get better.
“We are in a reasonably good place now, but we know you have got to keep getting better.”
Ulster had led 10-3 at the interval against Scarlets and given the rain and breeze, it looked as if a bonus point win would be unforthcoming.
Scarlets drew level with a fortunate converted try, but that spurred Ulster into action and Jacob Stockdale and John Cooney and Ian Henderson, adding to his first half try, got the due rewards in an impressive second half display.
Best said: “The back to back games are difficult because you plan all last week to do a few things and to try a few things and then you do that.
“This week it is about you know the two teams know each other. Sometimes you roll up your sleeve keeping the ball fighting hard and scrapping for every inch you can.
“I think to get 10 points in this period against a quality side is something we can be really really happy with.”
The win has made it three on the bounce for Ulster and Best pointed to the leadership within the side that is helping to bring young players along.
“There is no doubt there is pressure put on (the senior players), it is the same right across all the Provinces, when your international players come back you expect them to fit in and you expect them to raise standards and I would like to think that we have done that here.
“You look at the performances of Iain Henderson and Jacob Stockdale over the last couple of games
“I think all of them have done it. Look at Eric O’Sullivan the last couple of week, even Kieran Treadwell the way he has been, guys that are fringe, right on the periphery, Irish players are stepping up and when they are surrounded by internationals they do not cower away from it, they step up and want to be better.”