Ulster ready to hit the ground running, says Neil Doak
Ulster head coach Neil Doak believes the province's training week in Portugal has provided the perfect preparation for the season ahead.
While missing some who are already nursing injury - the sight of Chris Henry sporting his shoulder in a sling recently has raised serious doubts about his readiness for the new campaign - and late returning internationals like Rory Best and Andrew Trimble, the majority of the playing panel have been in the town of Vilamoura in the Algarve since Sunday.
Ahead of today's return to home comforts, Doak feels the intense nature of the camp has greatly accelerated their efforts to hit the ground running when the new campaign begins.
"It's going really well," said the former scrum-half. "We've adjusted a few plays and added in a few other nuances, so the camp allows us to have a concentrated period where we can get everybody up to speed.
"There's no distractions. These five days are invaluable as we can get two or three weeks' work done, and hopefully that will be seen in the pre-season games that we've got coming up."
This time last year, Doak was the man with his hand on the tiller as Ulster waited for Director of Rugby Les Kiss' contract with Ireland to end.
The absence of the Australian 12 months ago will surely have taken its toll on preparations, while in June of 2014 there was the tumultuous month that saw both David Humphreys and Mark Anscombe clear out their offices in Belfast.
This summer figures to be a much smoother time however, the only changes provided by the addition of some new faces to the playing squad.
With six signings in all, rarely has an arrival to the Kingspan Stadium been as eagerly anticipated as All Black Charles Piutau while Springbok flanker Marcell Coetzee, even though he won't be seen until the winter thanks to injury, represents another massive coup.
With Rodney Ah You, Kieran Treadwell, Brett Herron and Angus Lloyd also bolstering the squad, Doak has been impressed with what he has witnessed from the recent recruits.
"The new guys have been superb," he said.
"I think the skill sets and experience that they have brought so far will complement the team greatly.
"It's a pretty daunting time for them, learning the terminology and how things are done, but they've settled in well and I've no doubt they'll be great additions to the squad."