Ulster new signing Sam Windsor targeting title reign at Kingspan as team prepare for Leinster clash
The first game of any campaign can often not come soon enough for players tiring of the monotony of pre-season but Ulster's new signing Sam Windsor has extra incentive to look forward to tonight's friendly with Leinster at the Kingspan Stadium (kick-off 7.30pm).
The Australian out-half, who is Irish-qualified through his parents, dislocated a shoulder during his debut for Worcester Warriors' second string back in December and was unable to return before the end of the season.
"It'll be my first full game since the start of November so I'll probably be in a heap looking for a new set of lungs," Windsor said of this evening.
"Nine months, it's a long break from rugby and I haven't enjoyed it at all.
"There have been some long days, some hard days and a lot of soul searching but I get to play again. Some players don't get that luxury."
When Windsor does make his belated return to the field he could be forgiven for being rather more familiar with his opponents than his team-mates after enjoying a short spell at the RDS in 2013-14.
Windsor never cracked the first team, although he did appear against the Ravens for Leinster A, and admits that playing against some former team-mates will make his Ulster debut even more significant.
"I spent plenty of time with the boys that I assume will be playing on Friday night," he said. "They all would have been in the academy or graduating from the academy during the time I was there.
"They're all very good players, and players that I would have been competing with for positions, so I'm really looking forward to playing and showing what I can now do as a player."
While his spell in Dublin whetted the 28-year-old's appetite for Irish rugby, his decision to move this summer was aided by the advice of Ulster front-rowers past and present.
A native of Canberra, Windsor knows Ruaidhri Murphy well through their time in the Brumbies system while Ulster academy graduate Niall Annett, a team-mate at Worcester, went as far as helping him find a house.
"Ruaidhri Murphy was sort of my first port of call when this opportunity arose," Windsor explained.
"He couldn't speak highly enough of the facilities, the staff and Belfast as a city.
"Niall was really helpful, putting me in touch with a few of the guys and re-affirming what I had thought, that it's a great club, a great set-up and definitely one moving forward."
His arrival at Ulster sees him join a battle with Paddy Jackson, currently on Ireland duty with the World Cup squad due to be announced on August 31, and Ian Humphreys for the number 10 jersey.
"I think we all bring a different skill to the position," he said.
"Paddy is obviously with Ireland and hoping to get as many games as he can there. Humph is more experienced than both of us so I'll be looking to learn as much as I can. It's important that I bring my own flavour to the game.
"The coaches haven't really seen me play yet. Hopefully I offer something different to the other two boys and going forward that can get me a start. Regular football is what I want and I'll hopefully help the team to win trophies at the end of the season."
Tonight, he is hoping, could be just the beginning.