Hooker Rob Herring missed the back to back defeats against the Scarlets and Cardiff due to a hamstring injury but should be fit to return to the middle of the front row for Friday’s must win game against Zebre.
The stand in skipper doesn’t think his absence was a contributing factor to the defeats.
“I don’t think so,” said Herring, “It was pretty frustrating to miss the two as I haven’t missed one in a while and it was pretty strange being out of the squad and feeling that you can’t do anything about it, it’s good to be back now.”
Ulster have gone from top of the PRO12 to fourth in a couple of weeks but entertaining Zebre on Friday night provides the ideal opportunity to get back to winning ways.
“You don’t become a bad team overnight,” said Herring. “All teams experience these kind of dips and a good side can show character to get out of them and that’s what we plan to do this weekend.”
“I think they are a well coached side and they’re really good at counter-attacking and in open field play so they can score tries from anywhere.
“It is nice to be back at home and finish this block off in front of the home crowed and give them a performance that we think they deserve.
“The players definitely appreciate what the crowd do and I think whenever we play away we sometimes have more support than the home side.
“I think we’ve got to show them this weekend that we really appreciate it.”
Ulster have lost two league games at home already and haven’t lost three in Belfast since the 2009/10 season and Herring feels the team own the fans a performance after losing to the Scarlets in their last game at Kingspan Stadium.
“It wasn’t a great performance from us and we never like losing away from home.
“We pride ourselves on how we play at home and we want to make the Kingspan a fortress, I think that’s the third time we’ve lost at home this season (Saracens, Munster, Scarlets) we hope to put that right this weekend.”
As well as losing games Ulster also are also conceding soft tries and Herring acknowledges the defence must improve if a top four spot is to be secured.
“I think over the last couple of weeks it hasn’t gone as well as we would have liked.
“We’re a pretty good defensive side and I think only two other teams have let in more tries than us.
“We do have good defensive structures and it’s something we build a lot of things on the back of and just maybe the last two weeks haven’t been up to our usual high standards and it’s something we’re looking to put right.”
One of Ulster’s biggest attacking weapons this season has been the attacking maul but it has been blunted in the last few games.
“We have been working on our driving mauls throughout the season and it’s really small things you have to fix. Whenever you play in a match it’s never going to be a perfect maul and it’s how you work around that to sort out imperfections to get a good maul going.
“I think it’s improved over the last couple of weeks and definitely our defensive mauls have improved so we’ll take some positives from that.”
Leinster got five points in Italy last weekend against Zebre and Herring is hoping Ulster can do the same against the side with the worst defence in the competition having conceded 428 points in 15 games.
“We want the win first and we’ll do that by building on the basics and doing the small things right,
“Once we get that, the bonus is a bonus obviously against Zebre we will be targeting that kind of victory,” added Herring.
Ulster will get a well earned break after the match on Friday night after a hectic schedule but Herring doesn’t want a break.
“Hopefully I’ll be involved with Ireland but we see this as a good game to finish off the block and it’s been six in this PRO12 block.”
“It hasn’t gone according to plan in the last few games but we need to finish off strong to get momentum for the next block.”