On Friday night Ulster return to the Heineken Cup stage for the first time since May 19 when Leinster blew them away in last season’s final.
A record Heineken Cup final crowd of 82,000 saw the defending champions chalk up back-to-back triumphs — and their third win in four seasons — with the 42-14 margin underlining their superiority on the day at Twickenham.
It was a traumatic day for Ulster in general and for young fly-half Paddy Jackson in particular. The nature and intensity of the occasion appeared to have been too much.
But rather than breaking him, the experience appears to have been the making of Jackson, with coach Mark Anscombe and captain Johann Muller speaking as one in extolling the youngster whose form so far this season has been top drawer.
Asked what he has seen in Jackson, Anscombe replied: “I see an outstanding young man who has got a lot of potential and a lot of talent.
“The fact is that finding himself in a Heineken Cup final at 20 probably came a little bit sooner than he expected. But he’s only going to be stronger and better for that.
“We’ve already seen in the games he has played this season how he has benefited from that. He’s still growing, so he’s still three to four years away from producing what his potential is going to be.”
“That’s what you’d expect — you don’t gain that in five minutes as a 10 when you’re needing to control the game, direct the game, make good decisions and boss people around.
“But already this year I see major development and improvement just from the experience he gained last year.”
Meanwhile Ulster expect to know today if Nick Williams will be fit to face Castres. The No 8 suffered a rib injury in Friday night’s PRO12 win against Connacht and Ulster are awaiting a consultant’s verdict as to its severity.
But Sean Doyle is a definite non-starter after breaking a fibula while playing for Dungannon against Dublin University in Saturday’s Ulster Bank AIL 1B match at Stevenson Park.