Rob Herring throwing friendship to one side as Ulster head to Connacht
Though helping secure Ulster's fourth straight win made Christmas all the sweeter for Rob Herring, there was no masking the fact that plenty of improvements are needed if the province are to further their uplifting run.
One area requiring some attention after last Friday's win over Munster will be the lineout where some of Ulster's work was not quite what it should have been. But, then again, there is always something to work through in the never-ending quest to improve.
A small tweak here and there will doubtless solve the issues and transform Ulster's work out of touch into something as strong as their driving maul, or indeed the team's defending against Munster which saw their line remain intact.
Now with one inter-provincial win behind them - second in the PRO14's Conference B and three points ahead of the Scarlets - Ulster head to Galway tomorrow for round two of their trio of Irish derbies over the festive period in upbeat mood to avenge losing to Connacht at home and keep the run going.
"Away from home you have to start fast and keep the pressure on," said Herring, who played no part in last December's heavy defeat from the last time Ulster headed west.
"Obviously it (last year when they lost 44-16) wasn't our greatest game. We want to play a lot better than that," added the seven-times-capped Ireland international before getting on to more contemporary matters.
"We have been going nicely over the last four weeks and we'll take a lot of confidence down to Connacht.
"It is another big game for us, an interpro, and we need the points to start making our way further up the table."
Herring played 51 minutes last Friday against a watered-down Munster and scored Ulster's opening try off a driving maul just after the half hour in what was a typically full-on encounter between the rival provinces.
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"There is always an extra bit in these games," said the Cape Town native.
"They are very physical because they are big games. Some of us are, of course, good mates off the pitch, but on the pitch it all changes and you are playing for pride."
Connacht will also be hurting after their dramatic defeat to Leinster in Dublin and will be determined to put on a big performance at the Galway Sportsground, with taking Ulster down for a second time this season being a huge incentive, never mind the western province's ongoing battle with the Ospreys for third place in Conference A.
Herring is therefore not just providing diplomatic soundbites for what lies ahead tomorrow evening.
"We have had some tough battles there over the years," he stated.
"The elements can factor in quite a bit and there is normally a strong wind blowing, but it is a tough place to go anyway - especially in the Christmas derbies."
It prompts some reflection on October's loss to Connacht at Kingspan Stadium - the first time the visitors had won in Belfast since 1960 - and how there is extra motivation to avenge the memory of that evening.
"That was a very disappointing game and there is an element of making things right," said the 28-year-old.
"But I think we have come a long way since then, we are playing a very ambitious brand of rugby and hopefully we can go down there (to Galway) and keep that up."
It will be a big occasion with a heaving crowd at the Sportsground and, yet again, Galway's notoriously difficult weather returns to the agenda. If needs be, though, should Ulster be able to secure lineout ball then their maul will doubtless be deployed.
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"We'll see what the conditions are in Galway," said Herring with a knowing smile.
"But over the last four or five weeks our maul has clicked and hopefully we can keep doing that and it might be a weapon we need."
So, it seems, is the notion that Ulster can step it up away from home, as was seen from their Champions Cup victory at the Scarlets earlier this month.
It's all about the visitors creating their own energised environment, whether where they are is a hostile place or one without much in the way of atmosphere at all.
"Sometimes you go to places and there is no atmosphere, but it will be different this week (in Galway), so you have to generate the atmosphere from within the team, it is something we are trying to improve on and we seem to be going in the right direction," explained Herring.
"We have a pretty tight squad. You can see in defence that we are really working hard for each other and backing each other up and a lot of our resilience comes from that.
"We just have to stick to the way we are playing and try to go and get the win."
A fifth straight victory would certainly be more than a pleasing way for Ulster to sign off for 2018.