If Leinster came close to retaining their European title against Saracens on Saturday, Ulster came even closer to knocking their Irish rivals out of the competition in the previous round.

That is the scale of the challenge that now confronts Glasgow Warriors in their bid to reach the Pro14 final on Friday.

Ulster may have been on the wrong end of a hefty scoreline when they last visited Scotstoun little more than a month ago, no-one believes that to have been any sort of indicator as to what might be expected this time around.

Even then, Dan McFarland, the former Glasgow and Scotland forwards coach who is now in charge in Belfast, admitted at that point to having targeted the following week’s meeting with Edinburgh as the more important match at a time when his team was trying to deal with the pressure of competing at the sharp end on two fronts, having played that Champions Cup semi-final against Leinster the week before they came to Scotstoun.

They were duly transformed at Murrayfield a week later in claiming the win that turned the race for play-off places in their favour and they then ground out a rare victory over Leinster before seeing off Connacht in the Pro14 quarter-finals.

The return of British & Irish Lions lock Iain Henderson for the trip to Edinburgh was galvanising and since then the recovery of Ireland captain Rory Best from injury has provided further stimulus, his colleagues’ knowledge that this is the veteran’s last campaign with his province after 15 years in harness almost as important in that regard as the formidable contribution he makes as a player.

For all that Glasgow’s run of eight successive Pro14 victories coming into these play-offs affords confidence, then, there is an awareness that these knockout ties are of a different order.

That is partly because the Pro14 is very much a development competition throughout the regular season, as we were reminded at the weekend when Leinster coach Leo Cullen was being asked how much of a challenge it is to prepare for meeting Europe’s best sides when playing their domestic rugby in the “uncompetitive Pro14.”

The gear change that comes at the play-off stage was demonstrated this time last year when the Scarlets visited Scotstoun in the Pro14 semi-finals, however and just as was the case then, the other three teams still contesting the Pro14 title this time around have all proven themselves to be genuine Champions Cup contenders.

By contrast, proud as they are entitled to be of that unbeaten record in the Pro14 since January, those Glasgow wins have been interrupted by two hidings at the hands of Saracens.

These play-offs consequently represent the latest opportunity to gain an idea of whether they really are beginning to gain some ground on the top teams rather than merely being the best of the rest in the Pro14 and, pleased as they have been with their form, they know they must now reach a level that has previously proven beyond them this season.

“We want to get better,” assistant coach Jonathan Humphreys said yesterday.

“We don’t put a ceiling on that.

“Against Saracens, the best team in Europe, we didn’t perform. That gave us the kick that we needed.

“Every time we go out on the training field we need to be better when we walk off compared to when we walked on and we have to be better than we were against Edinburgh. This is a different kettle of fish, a different challenge, a better team. We have to play better.

“This is the play offs. This is where everybody wants to be at this time of year so we are expecting a real fired up team, a real physical team but we believe if we play well we have a great chance of winning.”

An additional complication has been the one down-side to topping their Pro14 Conference when already out of Europe which has once again meant having to deal with a three week lay-off following their last scheduled league match of the season.

Unlike last year when they secured that top spot early and subsequently lost focus in the closing weeks of the season, they were pushed all the way this time by Munster and responded with that eight match winning run which they believe means it has just been a case of keeping players fit and fresh in the interim.

“It is a challenge because we had good momentum and a good feeling amongst the group,” said Humphreys.

“We had that two weekends to make sure where we have to be.

“The boys have been unbelievable. We have had some fun and some tough sessions. It is all about getting us to Friday and better than we were in the last game we played which was Edinburgh. That is what we are after.

“We knew and hoped we would be in the play-offs, we needed energy, confidence and momentum.

“We have got that after the Saracens game and the squad has been unbelievable to beat Ulster, Leinster, Edinburgh. The way we have performed has been good for us.”

We will get an idea of how good on Friday evening and an even better one the following weekend if they can earn the right to meet Leinster or Munster in the final