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'There was part of me that was wondering was that me done, would I be a one-cap wonder?'

Rob Herring had to wait three-and-a-half years for his second bite at international rugby, and he wasn’t prepared to let the chance slip by.

Herring celebrates his try against South Africa.
Herring celebrates his try against South Africa.
Image: Inpho

WHEN THE FINE margins between success and failure in sport are so often defined by a tenacity to recognise, and then seize, an opportunity when it arises, Rob Herring understood the significance of last weekend.

Three-and-a-half years after winning his first and only Ireland cap during a summer tour of Argentina, the Ulster hooker had waited a long time for another opportunity to present itself again.

He questioned if another opportunity would ever come, and the doubts reverberated.

Had the door closed on his international career after just three minutes in a green shirt?

Would he be a one-cap wonder?

Last season came and went without even a sniff of involvement in a Carton House camp and that international recall couldn’t have appeared further away for the 27-year-old, who watched Sean Cronin, Richardt Strauss, Niall Scannell and James Tracy come in at various stages to play understudy to Rory Best.

“It was a massive honour to get that opportunity again and I’m just grateful to Joe for the chance,” he says, reflecting on Saturday’s second-half cameo against South Africa, incidentally the country of his birth.

To get back to that stage had been a long journey for Herring, having initially broken into Schmidt’s plans during that summer tour in 2014.

“The disappointment for me is that I wasn’t able to kick on from it,” he admits.

The problem, however, was that game time at Ulster was limited by the presence of Best, the Ireland captain. The big games, the interpro games and the European games provide the best window of opportunity but that’s when Best, if fit, came back into the team.

Herring also recognised the need to fine-tune certain parts of his game that needed to be sharpened if he was to add weight to his case for selection — more consistency in his throwing as well as a concerted effort in the gym to add 5kg to his six-foot frame.

Rob Herring Herring speaking to the media at Carton House today. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

And of, course, the natural process of maturing as a player and growing into a role with more confidence and conviction played a part in his return from the international wilderness.

“Last year was probably the first year I wasn’t in and out of Ireland camps, I only played for Ulster last year as I wasn’t invited to any camps so I think I just had to reset my motivation coming into this season and I’m just really enjoying my rugby at the moment,” he continues.

“I’ve had a run with Besty being out [injured] and those Champions Cup games as well before the selection took place for the November internationals probably helped my cause a little bit. I’m just enjoying my rugby a bit more and hopefully it’s showing in the way I’m playing.”

Certainly, an extended run in the Ulster team was a major factor for his recall.

With Best given additional time off after the Lions tour and then sidelined for a further few weeks with a hamstring problem, Herring featured in eight of Ulster’s first 10 games of the season, including starts in both Champions Cup games.

He was in the shop window again, and Joe’s call came.

Herring knew he had to grasp it with both hands.

“Last year there was a small part of me that was wondering was that me done, would I be a one-cap wonder? I’ve always believed I have the ability and that I’m good enough to be here so I just need to tick on and keep working away in the background. I knew when my opportunity came I had to take it.”

And so Saturday came, and the chance to win a second cap. To resurrect his international career.

“It was a pretty fun weekend,” he laughs. “I was pretty nervous leading up to it and as soon as I got to the Aviva for the captain’s run on Friday, the excitement started building and I couldn’t have asked for more when I came on.

Rob Herring and Jacob Stockdale The hooker with Ulster team-mate Jacob Stockdale after Saturday's game. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

“There was a couple of good scrums and the try was a good team effort and I was the lucky one to finish it off. It was brilliant.”

With some of his family — including his mother and two sisters in the crowd having travelled from South Africa for the game — Herring brought a lot of emotion onto the pitch when he replaced Best after 67 minutes.

“There was probably a few times when you saw me screaming and shouting, it was just a lot of things built up over the years and to finally get that chance was brilliant. It was an unbelievable experience.

“Hopefully I get another shot this weekend and I just need to keep improving. I’m in the squad now, like Joe said to me ‘you’re here now so stay here and take it forward’ so that’s something I need to try and do coming into this week.”

A first Ireland start awaits against Fiji on Saturday, and now that he’s got a taste for it again, Herring isn’t prepared to wait another three-and-a-half years for cap number three.

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