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Ulster and Herring keen to swiftly move on from Toulon disappointment

The 24-year-old hooker is hoping to impress Joe Schmidt in Saturday’s clash with the Dragons in Belfast.

Herring is eager for a run of games with Rory Best otherwise occupied.
Herring is eager for a run of games with Rory Best otherwise occupied.

IT’S BEEN A tough fortnight for Ulster, with two European defeats leaving their hopes of progressing from the Champions Cup pool stages looking dead.

A home fixture against the Dragons in the Pro12 on Saturday evening does at least present the opportunity to get back to winning ways, but even that would do little to ease the frustration of failure against Leicester and Toulon.

Neil Doak’s side were blown away by the Top 14 champions in Kingspan Stadium last weekend, meaning their video review early this week was unlikely to be much fun.

“It was always going to be tough,” says hooker Rob Herring, who played the final minutes against Toulon after appearing off the bench.

Not just last weekend, but the weekend before – two games not getting the results we wanted. But I think we need to put it in the past and look forward to what’s coming this weekend.”

There’s little point in dwelling morbidly on the back-to-back defeats, but Ulster will of course look to learn from their shortcomings as they move on. Furthermore, Herring underlines that the northern province will not give up hope in Europe just yet.

“I think maybe the perception initially was that we got dominated at the breakdown, but if you look at the stats it was actually pretty even turnover-wise,” says the once-capped Ireland international.

The Ulster players after the game Ulster were well beaten in Belfast last weekend. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“I just think at the times when we did get turned over at the breakdown, they were pretty important times. It was in key ares of the pitch and that was the main thing we looked at. We’ve got to get better.”

“I think for us, as a squad we still believe we can get out of [the pool]. Obviously it’s going to be a tough ask for us and we’re going to have to win all four games, but we really believe and we’re looking forward to getting back into the Pro12, hopefully getting some good results and building momentum into the next Champions Cup game.”

For Herring, the coming weeks are of particular importance, with captain Rory Best away in Ireland camp. That opens up the number two jersey and allows the 24-year-old to find the form that he feels has evaded him in his two starts early in this campaign.

Last season, I had the luxury of getting a long run in the team when Rory was injured,” says Herring.

“For me personally, in the games at the start of the season, I didn’t carry as well as I wanted to. Rory’s obviously captain this year, so whatever game time I get, I’ve got to be on top of my game and keep pushing him.”

That run of form in the second half of last season saw Herring earn selection for Ireland’s tour of Argentina, where he made his debut as a replacement in the second Test.

Jamie Heaslip, Rob Herring and Iain Henderson Herring made his Ireland debut in Argentina in June. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Despite not being capped upon for the November Tests, the Cape Town native – who spent his formative professional years in the London Irish academy – is still very much on Joe Schmidt’s radar.

“I spoke to Joe last week,” outlines Herring. “I was kind of expecting not to be in the squad this time around, with the limited game time I had and because other hookers have been putting their hands up.

“Obviously I’m just going to go back with Ulster, hopefully get a good run of games, keep improving and then hopefully put my hand up for Six Nations selection.

“I think I definitely learned a lot from the tour. I learned what I need to do and where I need to be if I want to be an international rugby player and get more caps. That was probably the main thing coming out of that tour, seeing how much more you need to do to be an international player.”

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Murray Kinsella

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