Hooker Adam McBurney has said Ulster need to turn the pain of September’s two heavy defeats to their advantage in the new season.
Dan McFarland’s side lost 27-5 to Leinster in the Pro14 final before being beaten 36-8 by Toulouse in the Champions Cup quarter-final.
They begin the 2020-21 Pro14 season at home to Benetton on Friday and McBurney is looking forward to a fresh start.
“It was bitterly disappointment to lose those big games,” he said.
“However, it is important we don’t forget that feeling. We can park it, but when it comes into the season and we are digging deep we need to remember that hurt and use it to push us forward.
“It can help us make sure we do all we can to not let it happen again. If you just forget about it you won’t learn from it. So we park it, we move on, but whenever we need that hurt we should use it.
“We want to bring our own stamp to every game and we did that quite a lot throughout the season, but there was maybe a little bit of inexperience when we got to the final and quarter-final.
“After getting there and not getting the results we wanted, it is about not resting on that but instead kicking on. When we get everything right, we can win and beat anyone on any given day.”
McBurney played in Ulster’s first game back after lockdown, a 26-20 defeat by Connacht in Dublin in August, but did not feature again after that loss.
He spoke candidly about how his performance against Connacht was not good enough, but said he was enthused by his try-scoring appearance in Ulster A’s victory over Leinster last week.
“I was bitterly disappointed to miss out on those big games but I had to reflect myself on my performance,” he continued.
“If I am brutally honest, I probably did not put my hand up to where it needed to be to play in those big games.
“I have done a lot of hard work behind the scenes and I was pleased to get the chance to play against Leinster A, to get minutes and to put my hand back up again.
“I was very thankful for that, It was a great result and the boys that took the field did the jersey proud. It was good to get back out on to the pitch.
“There were definitely areas of my game around the park that I wasn’t happy with. I hold myself accountable for those and have worked hard to put them right.
“Thankfully now it’s a fresh season and that bitter disappointment is what will drive me forward going into the new season. Hopefully we kick on because I’ve learnt a lot from that.”
Six hundred supporters will attend Friday night’s opener at the Kingspan Stadium, but IRFU chief Philip Browne warned last week that the “very existence of professional rugby” in Ireland is under threat unless fans can return in large numbers.
He added that Ulster’s season of turmoil two years ago left it less robust for the current financial challenges, something which the province’s chief executive Jonny Petrie said was fair.
However, when asked about the potential impact on professional rugby of the Covid-19 pandemic, McBurney said it is not something the players are thinking about.
“To be honest there has not been much chat about that amongst the players,” he added.
“We have one job, which is to perform on the pitch, so if we worry too much about outside factors then it would affect us performing on a Friday night or a Saturday.
“For us, we let other people worry about that we just focus on training hard and getting better.”