Rob Herring admits he's hooked on his Ulster adventure
Preparing to captain Ulster against Edinburgh at the Kingspan Stadium tonight (7.35pm kick-off), Rob Herring insists there is no place he'd rather be.
The hooker's two-year contract extension was announced this week with the 25-year-old revealing that leaving the province where he has spent the last three-and-a-half years was never under serious consideration.
"I'm delighted to stay," said Herring.
"It's a great club with great coaching and great facilities. I didn't really want to be anywhere else to be honest."
His willingness to stay on for at least a further two seasons comes in spite of seeing first choice No.2 Rory Best also commit to lengthening his Ulster career last week.
The pair have been waging a one-sided battle for the starting job for years but even though the Cape Town native clearly has more than enough talent to start elsewhere, both within Ireland and further afield, he is determined to put as much pressure as possible on the man he thinks could succeed Paul O'Connell as Irish captain.
"Hopefully it becomes a good competition over the next year," he said ahead of a start tonight that comes with Best rested ahead of the Champions Cup double-header with Toulouse in the two weekends before Christmas.
"Like I always say, Rory is the best hooker in Ireland at the moment; I don't think anyone would be surprised if he's the next Irish captain but I'm ambitious.
"I want to be starting for Ulster, I want to be kicking on for Ireland as well."
With that in mind, his total number of minutes of late have been a source of frustration.
Having captained the province, and logged considerable game-time, during Best's World Cup absence, since Ireland's most capped hooker of all time returned to Les Kiss' starting line-up two games ago, Herring has been on the field for just 17 minutes with more of those coming in the unusual position of flanker than in the front-row.
"It was pretty disappointing from a personal point of view," he reflected.
"I'll be looking to have a few more minutes this week. I can only put my hand up in the time I'm given I suppose."
On his brief excursion into the back-row against Saracens, where he also made his Ireland debut against Argentina in the summer of 2014, he added: "It was a bit of a shock when they told me I was going out at flanker. Obviously I want to be playing hooker but I'm happy to go in wherever the team needs me."
On a team rather than personal level, it's been an equally frustrating run for Ulster.
Losing three of their last four games in all competitions, Herring says that nobody involved in the squad finds their current PRO12 position of seventh acceptable.
"It's been a tough month for us," he bemoaned.
"The Saracens game really didn't go how we wanted, losing four tries at home. Against Leinster we improved.
"Our defence is going in the right direction but we missed a few opportunities that would have changed things.
"We need to improve this week at the Kingspan, especially in front of our home crowd.
"We're sitting mid-table at the moment. We're not a mid-table side. Nobody in the team believes that.
"The guys who are at the top of the table, they've had momentum. They've been winning both away from home and at home.
"If you look at Connacht, they're on a roll at the minute, so hopefully we can start winning a few back-to-back and getting momentum.
"We've obviously got big games coming up in the Champions Cup too but our focus is on this week.
"Win this week and we can carry that momentum into those games against Toulouse."
To do that, Herring and his forward cohorts will need to battle against an obdurate Edinburgh pack and correct a scrum that has misfired in recent weeks.
"We know they're a tough side to break down. They're well-coached, they have a game-plan and they stick to it," he noted.
"Their scrum has improved a lot as well. It's a big challenge.
"Their starting front-row now is totally different. Not just in the players but the way they scrum.
"They push and they just drive you over, they don't load up in the way you expect from them. They've a back five behind them who want to scrum as well so it's a massive challenge.
"A few of the scrums we look back on and question what the referee saw wrong but our scrum hasn't been up to the standard that it was last year.
"We're always looking to that. It's hard.
"We do look at it and question why it's been called against us. It's hard for the ref, there are a lot of 50-50 calls but we can definitely do better and we have to be better this week."
Ulster's efforts to maintain a perfect PRO12 home record surely depend on it.