Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 16 April 2014

Herring has sunny outlook

Ulster players go through their paces in front of the new stand under construction
Ulster players go through their paces in front of the new stand under construction

It seems a pleasant afternoon so Rob Herring's inquisitors persuade him to take a seat outside on the balcony allowing all to soak up a few rays while going through the motions of the weekly Press day.

But appearances prove to be considerably deceptive, as even though the sun is out, the temperature is nowhere near where it ought to be and the Cape Town native is very soon struggling with the choice of venue as indeed are those who invited him outside in the first place.

Faced with such adversity, though, Herring opts to carry on regardless, which neatly parallels Ulster's current situation as they deal with the unusual situation of having lost two from their last three games resulting in their PRO12 lead being whittled back to a mere three point gap over Glasgow Warriors and, more worryingly, in terms of their home semi-final hopes, sees the leaders just five points ahead of third-placed Leinster.

Luckily before anyone is forced to scamper back inside to the warmth, the 22-year-old Irish qualified hooker, who on Friday will make his 17th appearance for Ulster in only his first season at Ravenhill, proves to be engaging company with the discourse ranging from his own crop of biltong (cured meat South African style) currently on the go in the flat he shares with Ali Birch to his hope that he can get some surfing done over here when things finally warm up a bit more.

And before he gets down to talking about Ulster and the now critical importance of them winning Friday night's clash with Benetton Treviso – their final outing in the four-game segment during the Six Nations period – there is his own take on the difficulties fellow hooker Rory Best faced with his lineout throws when taunted and waved at by to an unusually visible degree by the giant Scotland second row Jim Hamilton at Murrayfield last Sunday.

"Yeah, I saw that and personally I think it is bad sportsmanship," Herring stated.

"I don't agree with it," he added before addressing the situation he is usually faced with when about to throw-in at the lineout.

"You'd maybe get a bit of cross-calling (the opposition trying to confuse the code for the throw) but from my experience you'll primarily get a lot of teams that will simply try to close the gap which is something the referee really has to deal with.

"As a hooker I have to say I don't really notice it (distraction tactics) but if it's such a tall guy you just might though I try to just be focused on where I'm going to throw."

While he rightly sympathises with Best's misfortunes, he also has the rather more pressing matter of helping Ulster sign off this segment of games on an up slope again with another win along the lines of the one against Zebre a fortnight ago – a game in which Herring scored his first try for Ulster – being very much the primary aim.

He was called into the action off the bench for last Friday's defeat at Scotstoun, and the fallout from Ulster's flat performance has clearly been exercising the thoughts of the injury-hit squad this week.

"We have six league games left and we want nothing less than a win from all of them," Herring (pictured) stated.

"Going into the semi-finals we want to make sure we're in top spot so we can get a home semi. It's a goal for us and is on everybody's mind."

And then focusing on the Glasgow defeat the former London Irish Academy player added: "It was very disappointing, and we have now lost three out of the last seven, but it's the kind of thing we'll bounce back from."

He played when they last met Treviso, back in November at the Stadio di Monigo when Ulster escaped with a 16-15 win and recalls a game where his bread and butter, the lineouts and scrums, simply didn't function to the required standard.

"Yes, we had a bad day out there (even though they won) and it always starts with the set-piece because you have to get that first phase ball and a bit of momentum."

The same simply can't be allowed to happen again as, now that the games are running out, Ulster and their starting hooker can't afford any more slip-ups.