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Leinster v Ulster PRO12 semi-final: Rob Herring has history in his sights

Hooker wants to change record and become first side to win an away semi

By Jonathan Bradley

Published 17/05/2016

Eyes on the prize: Ulster’s Rob Herring and Mike McCarthy of Leinster get a close look at the PRO12 trophy in Edinburgh
Eyes on the prize: Ulster’s Rob Herring and Mike McCarthy of Leinster get a close look at the PRO12 trophy in Edinburgh

Rob Herring needs no reminding that knockout rugby - and Leinster especially - have been stumbling blocks for Ulster in recent years.

The Dubliners have provided the killer blow to their northern neighbours' silverware hopes on four occasions since 2011 and, with Friday's PRO12 semi-final looming large, Les Kiss' men know they need to overcome the hoodoo - and make history - if they are to end a trophy drought that stretches back to 2006.

More: Jamie Heaslip wary of quality available to Les Kiss as Leinster face injury headache

"They've been a thorn in our side," said the once-capped Irish international. "We know we had a good win against them a couple of weeks ago (30-6 at the Kingspan Stadium) but they'll be a totally different beast this weekend.

"They're at home, they're top of the table, they've been the best throughout the season and they're a quality side. It's a big, big challenge but we're looking forward to it."

It's not only Leinster, of course, who have inflicted knockout heartache, with last year's loss to Glasgow at this stage of the competition still fresh in the memory.

But while history is against them with no team having won an away semi-final, for Herring, the tables are ready to be turned.

"Nobody has won an away semi but if you go back to last year, going to Glasgow, that game was ours for the taking," said the native South African.

"We've shown that we can go away and put in these performances. It's not just last season, though, it's the last four or five.

"We've always been there or thereabouts but we've never taken that step. There's a real desire to do it this year. We want to do something special.

"To go away from home to our local rivals, and be the first team to win an away semi-final, that's all we're thinking about."

If last season's loss to Gregor Townsend's eventual champions still provides motivation, it was the reverse at Scotstoun in March that Herring sees as the season's turning point.

Having assessed just how close to the brink their season had slipped, the province have reeled off four wins in succession since and arguably come into the play-offs as the league's form side.

"After the loss to Glasgow away, we definitely stepped back and realised that we had to win six in a row to win the tournament," said Herring.

"There is a lot of confidence now after four in a row, not just from winning, but I think we've been playing pretty well.

"It helps having the senior guys coming back from Ireland's Six Nations and having other guys starting to find form at the right time.

"I think, as a unit, we're starting to click. It seems like we're almost peaking at the right time. We've scored a few good tries and, the Ospreys game aside, our defence has been solid.

"We've come so close in the past, these last five or six years, and it hasn't happened for us.

"We're desperate now to go out and do something."

As impressive as Herring has been over the course of this season, the Cape Town man knows that, barring unforeseen injury to Rory Best, he will be wearing No.16 rather than No.2 on his back come Friday.

Now 26, Herring is Best's understudy both as hooker and team captain, but enjoys a great relationship with the man blocking his way to a starting role and doesn't find himself pondering what might have been had he stuck with his teenage position of lock.

"It's been interesting," he said of leading the side during Best's spells of Ireland duty this year. "I never saw the captaincy happening but I've really enjoyed it.

"Myself and Rory, we play the same position, so I thought it might be a bit complicated but he's been really helpful. He's told me where to improve and helped me to get better.

"The other guys around me too, we have a lot of leaders in our squad. They all make the whole season easier.

"Rory is our team captain and we have different personalities on and off the field.

"I can't try and emulate what he does. I just have to be myself. When you look from the outside, it probably does seem strange.

"I maybe thought it would be complicated but it hasn't been. We have a good relationship on and off the field and he's helped me a lot. I think we push each other in our performances. It's a win-win for us."

And in a semi-final on Friday where only the result matters, that's exactly what Ulster need.

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