Herring keen to knock rivals for Six
No matter how Rob Herring spends his weekend, the Ulster and Ireland hooker believes the stakes will be high.
Having spent last week in Carton House with the national side ahead of the Six Nations, the 25-year-old returned to captain his province to victory over Treviso on Saturday and remains unsure whether he will spend the next few weeks in white or green.
The South Africa native has won one cap for his adopted country - that coming on the 2014 summer tour to Argentina - but is one of a trio in the squad battling to back-up new captain Rory Best as they get their title defence under way against Wales at the Aviva Stadium on Sunday (3pm kick-off).
For a player who has been in good form for the province when his skipper has been absent, the chance of a first exposure to the Six Nations would be a substantial milestone in his career.
"It was really good," he said of last week's training camp battle with Leinstermen Sean Cronin and Richardt Strauss.
"I'd like to get a shot next week but obviously they'll be having a look at these games (from last weekend).
"Besty is obviously going to start so I think there's three of us going after that second spot. I'll keep doing what I do and train as hard as I can. Hopefully I'll get a shot later on in the Six Nations."
Should that chance not come in Dublin this weekend, Herring could well be making the familiar journey back up the M1 to assist Ulster when they host Dragons on Friday night.
The Rodney Parade outfit -boosted by an impressive home win over Leinster last weekend - are all that stand between Ulster and taking top spot in the PRO12.
Les Kiss' side are currently fifth in the standings but Friday's contest represents a game in hand after the original fixture was moved to accommodate the rescheduling of the Champions Cup visit to Oyonnax.
As the only game scheduled this week, a win would see the province leapfrog the four sides above them.
The first of three consecutive home fixtures - Glasgow and Scarlets visit later in the month - Herring is targeting a maximum return from the trio of Kingspan contests.
"Three games in a row at home, we love playing at the Kingspan and we know we always have great support there," he said. "Hopefully we can get a full haul of points from those three games."
The side have already had the ideal start to a slate of six games without their Ireland front-liners, taking all five points on offer during the weekend win at Stadio Monigo.
Herring, however, felt there was a lot to work on after a first-half that yielded just a pair of Ian Humphreys penalties before a four-try burst after the turn.
"I think we'll look back and be a little disappointed with the start," he said. "We didn't manage to get into the game through our own errors and that's always going to be important away from home.
"We knew that even though Treviso haven't been winning matches, they'd come out firing in front of their home fans with a bit of pride to play for.
"We knew they'd be tough to break down. We took our eye off the ball a bit in the first-half but credit to the boys and the way they came out in the second-half to fight their way back in.
"I think the bonus point gets us up the table and over the next block we really want to target getting into the top two and then cement our place there."
When Abraham Steyn mauled his way over the line in the closing minutes for Treviso, the game was long since over but Herring says he and his team-mates were still irked to see their line breached.
Nobody in the PRO12 has conceded fewer tries in the league this season with the former London Irish player praising the systems put in place by Kiss and defence coach Joe Barakat.
"I think the last try was a little disappointing but throughout the game we felt pretty comfortable in defence," he added. "A scrum penalty and then an infringement, I think in the first-half that's only where we came unstuck.
"We just didn't manage that well but the boys did a lot of work on defence and collectively the we have all bought into it."