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'Representing Ireland, representing that badge, it's pretty special'

Ulster front row Rob Herring was one of the big winners on Ireland’s tour Down Under.

Murray Kinsella reports from Sydney

RORY BEST’S ABSENCE provided a challenge for Ireland in Australia, but also an opportunity for other players to show their quality.

Peter O’Mahony and Johnny Sexton underlined that they are excellent leaders with the Ulsterman missing, while hookers Rob Herring and Niall Scannell were among the biggest winners on this tour.

Sean Cronin endured something of a nightmare, dropped from the matchday 23 for the second Test and ruled out of the decider with a hamstring injury, but Herring and Scannell will head away on holidays as very happy men.

Rob Herring celebrates after the game Herring had a fine tour for Ireland. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Munster hooker Scannell got two Test starts against one of the best teams in the world, while Herring added impact in the final two fixtures after impressing as the starter in the opening clash with the Wallabies.

“Obviously, it’s been a slightly difficult season at Ulster this year and, personally, I had a bit of a stop-start season, so to come out here and although it’s unfortunate Rory got injured, it was an opportunity from myself, Scans and Nugget,” said Herring after yesterday’s 20-16 win in Sydney. “I think we’ve all played our part in this tour.”

Herring is heading home to Ireland to open a coffee shop with friends in Belfast next week, meaning his mind will quickly be taken off rugby, but the 28-year-old has had a remarkable journey in recent years.

A native of South Africa, the hooker was signed by Ulster in 2012 partly on account of having an Irish grandparent on his mother’s side.

He made his Ireland debut on the 2014 tour of Argentina, but this has been the breakthrough season of his Test career, with an impressive November Test series followed by this excellent Australia tour.

“I wasn’t born in Ireland, Northern Ireland, and just over the last six years it’s given me so much personally playing for Ulster and playing for Ireland,” said Herring.

“It’s been an incredible six years and to be able to be part of big victories like that, representing Ireland, representing that badge, it’s pretty special.

“Hopefully, I’ll have a few more opportunities in the next couple of years. I just want to do my family proud and all the people back home proud as well.

Peter O'Mahony, Johnny Sexton, Jordi Murphy, Devin Toner, Rob Herring, Rob Kearney and Jacob Stockdale celebrate after the game Herring and Ireland celebrate their win. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“I haven’t won anything with Ulster yet and I didn’t get to play in the Six Nations even though I’ve been in the squad. So to be involved in this and contribute to a phenomenal season – it’s been an incredible season for Irish rugby – has been brilliant.”

The return of Best from injury next season will force a tough decision for Schmidt in the hooking slot, but Herring is hopeful of being part of Ireland’s next campaign too.

“Hopefully, there is more to come and it’s a massive 18 months coming up for us,” said Herring. “We’ll keep building and hopefully keep building to the World Cup.

“Particularly the last year, it’s been massive for us. We know that as a squad we still have more to give. We have another tough autumn internationals coming up and then the Six Nations, leading into a World Cup.

“There’s a lot of belief in the squad and we’ve shown throughout the last year that we can come back and hold out in those big moments. I think that’s the kind of belief you need to keep building on going into a World Cup.

“We’re quite a tight group and from these three and a half weeks we’ve been on tour, that sense of being tight-knit has grown considerably.

“Ultimately, we want to play for Ireland and play for each other on the pitch. That showed in the last few Tests and when we put our minds to it, we can be pretty good.”

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Murray Kinsella

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