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'I've been in Six Nations squads and never played, so hopefully that can change'

Ulster man Rob Herring is making a strong push to claim Ireland’s number two jersey.

ROB HERRING WAS at the World Cup with Ireland, although it was a brief experience.

The Ulster man had been omitted from the initial 31-man squad that travelled to Japan but knew he was next in line if any of Joe Schmidt’s hookers were injured. Still, the call-up came as a surprise.

Herring had landed back into Belfast after Ulster’s two-week Pro14 tour of South Africa, collapsing into bed on the night of Tuesday 15 October.

irelands-rob-herring-during-the-training Herring was an injury replacement at the World Cup. Source: INPHO/Dan Sheridan

He woke at 6am the following morning to see a missed call from Joe Schmidt on his phone and realised he was going to be heading to Japan in the week of a World Cup quarter-final. Herring had scrambled to the airport by 8am, boarded a flight, and landed into Tokyo on the Thursday.

He knew he wouldn’t be playing in the quarter-final and it transpired that Ireland were knocked out by the All Blacks, meaning Herring had to face into the return journey home less than a week after arriving in Japan.

“It all happened pretty quickly, to be honest, I was still trying to get over jet lag,” said Herring this week. “It was nice to be a part of it, even if it was in a little capacity.

“It’s always a dream of a rugby player to play in a World Cup. I didn’t get to play but to get to experience a little bit of it was pretty cool.”

Herring, capped eight times by Ireland so far, has plans to feature for Ireland on the pitch in their upcoming Six Nations campaign.

With Rory Best now retired and the two other hookers from the World Cup – Niall Scannell and Sean Cronin – left out of Andy Farrell’s squad, the number two shirt is up for grabs.

Leinster’s uncapped 21-year-old Rónan Kelleher is an exciting option for Farrell, while Connacht man Dave Heffernan was a surprise selection but is highly-rated by the Ireland coaching staff for his contributions around the pitch. 

Even with only eight caps and no Six Nations appearances yet, 29-year-old Herring is the most experienced candidate and his strong form for Ulster leaves him well placed for a start against Scotland on 1 February.

rob-herring Herring in action against Australian in 2018. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

With Best also gone from the Ulster set-up, Herring has started all five Champions Cup games for the province this season, allowing him to build momentum and belief.

“I’m hungry to play international rugby, probably even more so than I ever have been,” said Herring. “Starting some of those big European games consistently and trying to put in good performances, that gives me a lot more confidence to go into international camp knowing I’ve put in the hard work and shown it in games.

“I’ve been in three or four Six Nations squads and never played, so hopefully that can change.

“I think I’ve given it my best shot. I’ve been happy with the work I’ve been putting in and the way I’ve been playing, it’s up to the coaches how they’re going to go about selection.”

Before he heads away to Portugal next week for Ireland’s pre-Six Nations training camp, Herring has a job to finish with Ulster.

Dan McFarland’s side can secure their Champions Cup quarter-final spot by beating Bath at Kingspan Stadium tomorrow [KO 3.15pm, BT Sport].

Although they can’t top the pool after losing away to Clermont last weekend, the chance to guarantee European knock-out rugby for a second season running means Herring and his team-mates are highly motivated. Bath are out of the competition after five defeats in five but Herring warns that the English side will come “fully-loaded.”

Ulster have enough of their own qualities to come through the test against Bath, although Herring stresses that the set-piece needs to be strong a week on from scrum issues in Clermont.

rob-herring-speaks-to-his-team-after-the-game Herring is a leader within the Ulster squad. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Ulster also botched a five-metre lineout in France, with Herring’s throw flying over and beyond Jordi Murphy, so they have been working hard in that area too.

“Last weekend wasn’t good enough,” said Herring. “The two scrum penalties after half-time, one on our own ball, that’s not good enough. We’ve had to address that. We’ll stand up, take it on the chin and get better.

“In the lineout, there’s only small percentages between a terrible night and a perfect night. I think there’s a lot of moving parts and, obviously, it needs improvement and it will be improved but it’s small things that hopefully we can fix easily.

“In Europe, it hasn’t been that bad. We missed that important one at the weekend but in Europe, it’s been going well and then in the Pro14 it’s been a little up and down. It’s something we’re always looking to improve.”

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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