Belfast Telegraph

Ulster relishing the chance to tear the script apart against Toulon

Herring isn't hiding from mammoth task against star-studded French

By Michael Sadlier

Rob Herring is visibly shaking with the cold so you feel obliged to shorten this encounter to allow him to find warmth somewhere and fast, just in case he ends up joining the list of the sidelined players not going anywhere near Toulon on Saturday.

The 24-year-old hooker is not long off the training pitch on what has been a day when the temperature has threateningly loitered around the freezing mark, a situation which has been made all the more unpleasant by the accompanying gale whipping around the place.

Nevertheless, the Irish-qualified South African is still up for a bit of tub-thumping in what should be only his sixth start of the season - with Rory Best expected to be rested - and an even rarer opportunity to play from the outset in Europe.

"I haven't had much game-time in the last few weeks so I'm raring to go," he says of mostly making do with life on the bench and the prospect of now taking on the double European champions on their own patch at Stade Felix Mayol.

And with the sides at opposite ends of Pool Three with Toulon angling for a place in the last eight - though ideally with a home quarter-final to their name - while Ulster contemplate the likely looking end to their already more than remote mathematical hope of progressing, Herring is still prepared to talk the talk despite the odds looking overwhelmingly stacked against his side actually winning.

"Obviously they are a great side who have achieved so much over the last few years, so you've got to respect that, but at the same time, they're just players as well."

And the one-time capped Ireland player - who recently won man of the match in the PRO12 win over Connacht - continues to make the appropriate noises regarding the huge task ahead.

"Realistically we are probably out of the Champions Cup," he admits. "But we don't want to go there and just throw in the towel.

"We want to go and play good rugby and I'm not going there just to make up the numbers.

"I want to go there and win and as a rugby player that is the attitude you've got to have going into these kind of games."

Some may scoff at Herring's optimism, especially in light of Ulster's injury list - now including Dan Tuohy, Wiehahn Herbst and Luke Marshall - and their stuttering display in Sunday's narrow PRO12 win at lowly Treviso, but for the Cape Town native a lot is at stake as this is his chance to test himself against the best in the business.

Normally, at this time of year, the hooker who joined Ulster in summer 2012 would be waiting for the Six Nations and Best's absence to get in some serious game-time, but circumstances have changed and Ulster's European season looks certain to be reaching endgame at the pool stages for the first time since 2010.

Hence his opportunity, as Best is widely expected to be missing this weekend, and Herring knows he has to show up despite the clear impression that Ulster are somewhat up against it against the star-studded Toulon squad.

"You can't big them up too much, you've got to go there and show what you can do," is Herring's take on what has to be done.

He has, at least, been at the Stade Felix Mayol before and was part of the London Irish squad which travelled there in December 2011 in the then Heineken Cup, though admittedly in a non-playing role.

"I was there with Irish and I was 24th man," he recalls of a game in which his team-mates were duly turned over 38-17.

Although he didn't get on the field, the experience of being in the cauldron of a ground was something he nevertheless absorbed and filed in the memory bank.

"You walk into the stadium and their crowd is all around you and it's really very loud," Herring says of being there just over four years ago which could, in essence, be a template for playing at most Top 14 grounds.

"I think as a player you enjoy those moments and I know I really enjoyed it," he adds while mentioning that he did come off the bench to participate in last season's thumping 25-8 victory at Montpellier.

Herring was benched for Sunday's tight squeak at Treviso and readily accepts that Neil Doak's squad will be facing a long and fairly miserable afternoon on Saturday if they bring their shapeless, and scoreless, second half performance from northern Italy with them to the south coast of France.

"We know we've got to step it up massively on the defensive side this week," he states when reflecting on the Treviso experience.

"I think if we can defend very well, have a good set-piece and a decent attack then we're in with a chance."

Naturally, the early exchanges will be key as Ulster try to become only the second side to have won at the Stade Mayol this season and Herring, who got some game-time from the bench against Saturday's opposition in October's defeat at the Kingspan, is determined to face down the rather intimidating challenge.

"Away from home you've just got to make a statement first up and get the ref on your side a bit," he says.

"It will be really tough, but as long as we can win our own ball and try to disrupt theirs then I believe we'll be right in there."

"I'm really looking forward to this one," he adds before going in search of some much-needed heat to further fuel his belief that Saturday's mammoth task can be achieved.

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