Jamie Smith admits he is still trying to get used to the idea of being an Ulster regular.
Initially Bryn Cunningham’s long-term injury opened the door behind which Clinton Schifcofske’s return to Rugby League saw a keep-it-ajar wedge inserted.
Smith now is number one at number 15.
A graduate of Ulster’s Phoenix Academy, the full-back made his bow on the big stage with a cameo performance in the final five minutes of Ulster’s Heineken Cup clash with Stade Francais at Ravenhill on December 12.
Two weeks later he made his Magners League debut, starting against Leinster at the RDS on Boxing Day.
The following week, at a packed Ravenhill, he played against the might of Munster.
Three successive senior outings against Stade Francais, Leinster and Munster in the space of three weeks was quite an introduction to the big time for Smith who turns 22 next month and whose inclusion tonight against Connacht will be his seventh Magners League start.
“I was thrown in at the deep end and that’s what I wanted. I wanted the chance to show what I could do,” he reflects.
“At first it’s just about keeping things simple and trying to make sure you get the basics right.”
He understates the case. His performance against Viadana in an August pre-season friendly informed the Ulster fans that he was a genuine talent.
The fact that they took to him so readily owes much to the excitement he generates by virtue of his speed and ability in attacking from deep.
“That’s what I like about full-back; you get the ball in space and you can have a good bit of time to look up and see where the gaps are.
“It’s important to come on to the ball at speed. If you can do that and you’ve seen a gap you can beat a couple of defenders. You can’t join the line at walking pace,” is his assessment.
The new kid on the back three block gives credit to Andrew Trimble and Simon Danielli for having helped him settle into the role.
“They’re two fantastic players. They’re two internationals so it’s great to play alongside them.
“The experience they bring rubs off on me.
“In the back three you work as a unit so there’s a lot of communication. There has to be; if you aren’t talking it’s not going to work,” he says.
“You need to know who’s where and who’s doing what, especially in defence.”
He highlights indiscipline as having contributed to the six-match run without a win Ulster endured before bringing that to a dramatic end with a five-try triumph against Edinburgh at Murrayfield.
“That was a very important win. As well as ending that losing run it secured a place in the Heineken Cup.
“I think we deserve to be in that. We’ve played some great rugby this year and it would have been very disappointing if we hadn’t made it,” he says.
Reflecting on the season as a whole he points out: “We played well up until the Bath game but after that we didn’t produce the same sort of performance. I don’t know why.
“To score five tries in Edinburgh was great, but I don’t know why we were able to do it in that match but not in others.”
The blossoming full-back is hugely respectful of tonight’s opponents.
“Connacht have had some great results and good performances in the past few weeks. They were very unlucky against Toulon (in the Amlin Cup semi-final).
“They have some very good forwards and a couple of very exciting backs. Fionn Carr is a very good player, but their whole back three are good.
“So we can’t just go out and expect to start throwing the ball about. It’ll be tight at the start but hopefully it will open up after a while and we can get a few tries.
“It’s very important for the fans and for us to get a win in our last match of the season.
“Psychologically it really matters. You look to finish on a high.”