Fit-again Rob Herring is eager to get back on right track
The timing of Rob Herring's injury was doubly unfortunate with the hooker skippering Ulster in Rory Best's absence, while also being part of Joe Schmidt's wider Six Nations squad.
The one-time capped Ireland international shipped a hamstring issue in the narrow win over Glasgow Warriors and then could only sit out and watch as the wheels came off for Ulster with those head-wrecking defeats to the Scarlets and Cardiff Blues.
But now the Cape Town native is fit again and ready for tomorrow night's absolute must-win encounter with one from bottom Zebre - a game Herring and his team-mates know only too well is just about tasting victory again but also, ideally, coming away with five points.
Needless to say, the 24-year-old is rather cagey about admitting as such. But a glance at the table tells its own tale with Ulster now sitting in fourth - not long after topping the pile - and looking uncomfortable as the run-in to make the play-offs gets ready to begin in earnest after this round of games heralds an overdue three-week break for Les Kiss' squad.
"We want the win first and we'll do that by building on the basics and doing the small things right," said Herring regarding tomorrow night's return to the Kingspan.
"Once we get that, the bonus is, well, a bonus."
Herring will certainly be looking to deliver in much the same manner as he was managing prior to his injury with defence coach Joe Barakat having mentioned, in the aftermath of the Glasgow game, that the hooker had only failed to complete two tackles in his previous 88 hits.
Without lingering over his own personal statistic, Herring said: "It hasn't gone according to plan in the last few games, but we need to finish off strongly to get momentum for the next block.
"It is nice to be back at home and to finish this block off in front of the home crowd but we want to give them a performance that we think they deserve."
Not that Herring is likely to be able to put his feet up after tomorrow night as he hopes to be called back down to Carton House by Schmidt with the possibility that an addition to the sole cap won late on in Argentina in 2014 might yet be somewhere on the agenda.
Anyway, while firmly dismissing the tongue-in-cheek notion that his two-game absence may have been directly connected to the slump in results, Herring - who will make his 91st Ulster appearance tomorrow - is determined to put his weight behind steadying the ship in the first of two remaining league games with the Italian side.
"It was pretty frustrating to miss the two games as I haven't missed one in a while and it was pretty strange being out of the squad and feeling that you can't do anything about it. But you don't become a bad team overnight," he added of the recent reverses.
"All teams experience these kinds of dips and a good side can show character to get out of them and that's what we plan to do this weekend."
And with only five regulation rounds to go for most sides after tomorrow night, the time is definitely now to start putting some wins together again.
"We pride ourselves on how we play at home and we really want to make the Kingspan Stadium a fortress," he stated with a nod towards the 21-20 defeat to the Scarlets last time Ulster togged out in front of their home crowd.
"We really hope to put that (losing to the Scarlets) right this weekend in front of the fans against Zebre."
A convincing win is required of Ulster - and ought to be delivered.
Pro12 League: Kingspan Stadium, Friday 7.35pm