Ulster Rugby is the ideal place for me to reach next level: Billy Burns
While Ulster went on to secure the bonus-point win in Friday night's Champions Cup clash with Scarlets, taking 10 points from a possible 10 in the back-to-backs, there was a time in the game when things seemed less certain.
There were 50 minutes on the clock when, with Ulster rocked by a fortuitous Scarlets score against the run of play that had knotted the scoreline at 10 apiece, Billy Burns picked up the ball in midfield following a strong carry from Louis Ludik.
The fly-half spun an ambitious pass out wide to Henry Speight. The Wallaby wing made good ground, as did Will Addison soon after. The forwards added a few pick and goes before the ball again came back to Burns in a similar position to his last touch.
This time, sensing that the Scarlets' line had been pulled out of position, the former Gloucester man poked a grubber through that was gathered by Jacob Stockdale.
As he so regularly does, the Ulster wing finished the move with aplomb, but it was a passage that offered an insight into the attacking variety injected into the game by the side's No.10.
Burns, who was later named man of the match, admitted it was probably his best Ulster showing since arriving at Kingspan Stadium last summer.
Listen to more about his performance in this week's Ulster Rugby Round Up podcast. Listen here:
- Ulster Rugby Round Up podcast S2E18: European permutations, Iain Henderson's injury and out of contract players
"I've worked hard on the balance of my game and I've been guilty of probably over-playing things at times," he said.
"But myself and John (Cooney) really played the territory well. But that was all off the back of some great work from our forwards.
"The last two or three weeks, they have been sensational for us, putting us on the front foot and making things so much easier.
"That was great fun out there. I keep saying it, but when you have a pack that is as dominant as ours has been for the last few weeks, it's an armchair ride and you get made to look a lot better than you actually are. We just executed the plan and it's a credit to the way we trained and the coaches prepared us.
"But we have to keep our feet on the ground and push on from this.
"So we're a happy bunch but we also know we still have so much more to give which is exciting."
Burns believes that goes for not just the team but for himself. Having banked plenty of playing time during his days at Kingsholm, it can be easily forgotten that he is still just 24.
In Ulster, he believes he has found a situation where he can continue to grow as a player and game manager.
"I feel like I'm in a place where the coaches around me are great," he said. "They're really challenging me and I feel like I'm learning.
"That's what I want to do. I know that I'm a long, long way away from the player I know I can be and I know that I need to be.
"But the main thing for me here is that I am being challenged. There are great players around me, a great balance of older heads and young guys coming through.
"I came here to play in big games like this and there is no better feeling than running out there on a European night in front of a crowd like that and getting a good performance from everyone."
Having made such a success of their two December European games, the province are back in Guinness PRO14 action this week with the first of three inter-pros bringing Munster to Belfast on Friday night (7.35pm kick-off).
It's the first meeting between the pair since the Thomond Park outfit inflicted a record defeat upon their northern neighbours in Limerick some two and a half months ago.
While Ulster's potential selection will become clearer today, with management of front-liners to the fore, Munster have ruled out former Ulster centre Chris Farrell from the game with a thigh problem. The Fivemiletown man could be back to face Leinster in the first game after Christmas.