Jackson: We've fired a warning across Europe
Having admitted that Ulster lost their way earlier in the season, Paddy Jackson says the province have sent a message to the rest of Europe with their Champions Cup double over Toulouse.
Sunday's 25-23 triumph over Ugo Mola's side in the Stade Ernest Wallon completed a memorable 10 days for the Kingspan outfit after a 38-0 win against the same opposition a week prior. The wins have resurrected a European campaign that looked set to flounder after a home loss to Saracens in the first game.
Both the disruption of the World Cup and the wait for Les Kiss to arrive as the new Director of Rugby made for a disjointed start to the season but, having forged their first three-game winning streak since April, the side are rounding into form amid a crucial run of fixtures that now takes in inter-pros against Connacht and Munster.
For Jackson, the triumphs over the four-time European champions have provided a timely reminder of the squad's capabilities.
"Toulouse have been playing very well," he said of their beaten opponent's domestic form prior to the Ulster defeats. "There was a lot of people doubting us over the last couple of weeks but now we've put two good performances together on the back of a good win in the league (against Edinburgh).
"We're starting to find our feet a bit after being lost for a while. It's a message to send out to everyone in Europe."
The fly-half, who will not turn 24 until the first week of 2016, has been central to the attacking intent that saw Ulster run in 10 tries in their last three games and he appears back to his best after a delayed start to his season.
The former Dungannon man went to the World Cup as Joe Schmidt's third choice fly-half but went largely unused throughout the tournament and came home having added only half an hour of action to his Test total for Ireland.
Back in a rhythm and having started the last five games alongside scrum-half Ruan Pienaar, he cites regular gametime as the primary factor behind his recent eye-catching displays.
"It's just getting games back-to-back again," he said of his recent upturn in fortunes.
"I missed a lot of rugby from injury last season and this year from missing out at the start of the season.
"I'm happy to get back-to-back games. I'm starting to take the ball on a bit more, see things and be a runner rather than just a distributor as well.
"I get more joy putting boys away for tries than scoring myself.
"A lot of things are coming together. Bringing what we have been doing in training into games is good to see."
Now on nine points in Pool 1, Ulster will expect to secure a return to the European quarter-finals after last year's absence if they can double that amount in their two games against Oyonnax next month.
Jackson, however, says that Kiss' men will not take the challenge lightly despite facing a side who are currently mired in a Top 14 relegation battle and have had their European interest ended.
"It'll be tough, it always is coming to France," he stressed. "We won't be taking anything for granted. We've got a good chance to qualify from the pool when it comes back to it but we'll focus on the league now.
"At the moment we want to qualify from the group. Not qualifying last year was something that hasn't happened to us in a while.
"I think at the moment we want to qualify and take it from there."
With Europe now on the back burner until the competition resumes in mid-January, the PRO12, and Saturday's Boxing Day trip to Connacht, assume top priority.
Ulster have lost only once to the Westerners since 2005 - that coming a week after their Heineken Cup quarter-final win over Munster in 2012 - but their hosts are a different proposition nowadays and, even with an ever expanding injury list, Pat Lam has his side sitting second in the table.
In what can be a difficult place to play when conditions are poor, Jackson is hoping for more of the placid weather that has ensured the last two weeks have been unseasonably suitable for running rugby.
"It's always tough going to Connacht but especially now," he added.
"They're going really well in the league and it can be quite difficult down there at this time of year.
"We'll have to see how the weather is but it'll be a tough battle."