Stunning Ulster victory over Newport Gwent Dragons 29-8
Away from the commotion surrounding Ruan Pienaar's imminent exit, Ulster have a season to start with new captain Rob Herring eager to get the campaign underway against Dragons this evening (7.35pm kick-off, Kingspan Stadium).
"It's been a long pre-season so I'm looking forward to some proper games now," said the hooker.
"The pre-season games are never quite the real thing so we're looking forward to kicking off this weekend."
For the 26-year-old, tonight will mark the end of what has surely been the most eventful summer of his life.
Overlooked for Ireland's tour to his native South Africa, he was given a rare window for some time away from the game, an opportunity he used to get engaged to long-term girlfriend Nicola.
Upon returning to work, he was informed that he and Andrew Trimble were to be named as the successors to Rory Best in the role of captain.
With only one common weekend free in he and his fiancee's schedule, Herring jokes that planning the celebration should be a relatively straightforward affair but for now his focus is firmly on tonight's visit of Dragons.
"Look at our results against them last year, we beat them by seven points away and two points at home. They are a tough side to play against.
"They have recruited well, they have a good coach and they will play a structured game.
"They have a scrum-half who is a livewire and he'll look to get the forwards and backs into the game.
"If we are not on the money it will be a tough game for us."
Despite the events of the last few days, Herring is banking on the Kingspan atmosphere to be in full force this evening, with the sight of Charles Piutau making his competitive debut sure to generate plenty of buzz.
"We always say how much we enjoy playing at Kingspan and how much it lifts our performances up. Starting at home, it is a must win, and more importantly we have to perform and take momentum into the next few games.
"Some of the new boys had heard about the crowd at home and they experienced a bit last week in pre-season. I think the most important thing the new players bring is a sense of excitement, that extra bit of energy.
"When you look at guys like Charles, he has come in and, even though he is so young, he brings so much experience. You can hear in the way he is talking to the guys in the back-three and leading defensive sessions.
"Somebody like him is massive for us."
Jonathan Bradley examines how the teams are looking for the new PRO12 season
Coach: Danny Wilson
Captain: Gethin Jenkins
Key Man: Sam Warburton
Big arrival: Nick Williams
Big loss: Rhys Patchell
Last season: 7th
Verdict: Improved drastically throughout last season after a poor and frustrating start to the campaign and, with Danny Wilson remaining at the helm to offer some rare consistency, they will look to carry that momentum with them into this new term.
Coach: Pat Lam
Captain: John Muldoon
Key Man: Bundee Aki
Big arrival: Marnitz Boshoff
Big loss: Robbie Henshaw
Last season: 2nd (champions)
Verdict: Last season’s Cinderella story have lost key pieces in Henshaw, AJ MacGinty and Aly Muldowney. Figure to regress somewhat but another Champions Cup spot is a nevertheless realistic target.
Coach: Alan Solomons
Captain: Grant Gilchrist & Stuart McInally
Key Man: WP Nel
Big arrival: Duncan Weir
Big loss: Mike Coman
Last season: 9th
Verdict: Will always be physical and abrasive opposition under Solomons’ watch while Duncan Weir’s addition should give them stability at 10. It’s still hard to see too much improvement in the table, however.
Coach: Gregor Townsend
Captain: Jonny Gray & Henry Pyrgos
Key Man: Finn Russell
Big arrival: Leonardo Sarto
Big loss: Leone Nakarawa
Last season: 3rd (Beaten semi-finalists)
Verdict: Suffered a bit of a league-winning hangover last season. With Townsend entering his last year, there’s no shortage of motivation to send him off in serious style.
Coach: Leo Cullen
Captain: Isa Nacewa
Key Man: Johnny Sexton
Big arrival: Robbie Henshaw
Big loss: Luke Fitzgerald
Last season: 1st (beaten finalists)
Verdict: Have experienced a fairly large overhaul in players but there is still the familiar quality spine of Irish internationals. There’s every reason to expect that they’ll be among the last teams standing in May once again.
Coach: Rassie Erasmus
Captain: Peter O’Mahony
Key Man: Conor Murray
Big arrival: Jean Kleyn
Big loss: Johnny Holland
Last season: 6th
Verdict: Interesting times in Limerick as South African Erasmus comes in to head the coaching ticket. He has certainly talked a great game in his early interviews but will rely on suffering less injuries like the one that sidelined Peter O’Mahony last season.
Coach: Kingsley Jones
Captain: Lewis Evans
Key Man: Hallam Amos
Big arrival: Sam Beard
Big loss: Taulupe Faletau
Last season: 10th
Verdict: Have lost their best player in British and Irish Lions number eight Talupe Faletau and, while his game-time was limited, the world star will be impossible to replace. Some exciting young Welsh talent is already in place but a tough season may well lay ahead.
Coach: Steve Tandy
Captain: Alun Wyn Jones
Key Man: Rhys Webb
Big arrival: Kieron Fonotia
Big loss: Rynier Bernardo
Last season: 8th
Verdict: On paper, they boast one of the best XVs in the league but, consequently, they regularly lose so much quality to Wales during international windows that their chances of making an immediate return to Europe’s top table could well take a hit.
Coach: Wayne Pivac
Captain: Ken Owens
Key Man: Liam Williams
Big arrival: Jonathan Davies
Big loss: Rhodri Williams
Last season: 5th
Verdict: Haven’t made the play-offs since 2013 but figure to make a return. Have done some eye-catching business with Jonathan Davies returning, Rhys Patchell switching from Cardiff and Johnny McNicholl coming from Super Rugby
Coach: Kieran Crowley
Captain: Alessandro Zanni
Key Man: Edoardo Gori
Big arrival: Tommaso Allan
Big loss: Salesi Manu
Last season: 12th
Verdict: Former All Black Kieran Crowley figures to take a no-nonsense approach and force improvement but Treviso still don’t have the quality to expect more than the occasional scalp at home.
Coach: Les Kiss
Captain: Andrew Trimble and Rob Herring
Key Man: Paddy Jackson
Big arrival: Charles Piutau
Big loss: Nick Williams
Last season: 4th
Verdict: Now appears to be the time for this talented Ulster squad. Two massive signings and a loaded backline, but Ruan Pienaar’s imminent departure creates urgency.
Coach: Gianluca Guidi
Captain: George Biagi
Key Man: Carlo Canna
Big arrival: Josh Furno
Big loss: Leonardo Sarto
Last season: 11th
Verdict: Avoided finishing in the basement last season, earning a Champions Cup place in the process, but have witnessed a huge turnover of players in the summer. Needing time to gel, it looks like a return to bottom rung this year.