McLaughlin confident Bath raid can act as springboard for hungry Ulster
Even if Ulster enter their second decade without qualification for the Heineken Cup knockout stages next season, at least the 1999 winners will do so accompanied by more optimism than ever before.
Brian McLaughlin's men know that their home record cannot be faulted despite it being almost certain that they will fall short of the quarter-finals once more, yet completing the first away win in three attempts will serve as a boost as the squad seek to claim their first Magners League crown since 2005/06.
"We said one of our aims at the start of the season was to be heading into our final pool game in the Heineken Cup with something to play for, and that's exactly what we have done," said the Ulster coach as he announced an unchanged squad for the weekend trip to face Bath.
"So all credit to the players. They have done that and they deserve to be going to Bath with something major at stake. Hopefully, with a good week under us and confidence levels built even higher, we can go across there and get that elusive win on English soil.
"Heineken Cup rugby is very, very special. It's just a different standard. It's very important to Ulster; the players are all focused on their game and the task ahead of them.
"We know how tough a challenge it's going to be playing Bath away, so we're going over there anticipating a very hard game. We will make sure our preparations are thorough. We will be ready from them come Saturday.
"An away win in Europe is something we need in order to take our belief in ourselves up to the next level and to let others see that we are a team that's steadily improving."
McLaughlin's side will be keenly aware that a win at one of English rugby's most picturesque venues -- which may sadly soon be meeting a wrecking ball as Bath seek a move outside the town -- could secure his side an Amlin Challenge Cup berth.
Ulster will come face-to-face with England's latest overseas recruit, New Zealand-born former rugby league player Shontayne Hape, who will vainly attempt to dilute the hype which has accompanied his call-up to Martin Johnson's Six Nations squad.
"For now I just want to keep my head down and work hard," Hape admits. "At the moment I am in the England squad but that does not guarantee me selection. I don't want to get ahead of myself and I also have a game to play in front of the Bath home crowd this weekend too."