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Ulster aim to put down marker by busting the Baa-Baas

 

By Jonathan Bradley

With a long season set to come to a close as soon as the final whistle blows on Ulster's friendly with the Barbarians on Thursday night, Rob Herring is hoping for a better ending than when he last faced the famous touring side.

Two years ago this week, the Ulster skipper was getting a rare chance in a green jersey when Ireland welcomed a Barbarians side to Munster's Thomond Park for an uncapped international.

With the World Cup looming later that year, Herring's opportunity to impress Joe Schmidt lasted only four minutes before a bone-shaking hit from Australian legend George Smith ended his outing after coming off the bench.

"I don't remember much of it," said the 27-year-old.

"I remember talking to George Smith after it and he was really apologetic, I think it was a straight shoulder to the head."

While that day didn't go to plan for the man from Cape Town, the same can very much be said for Ulster's campaign, and Herring admits it has been odd training in preparation for this exhibition fixture when the game's heavy hitters were still taking part in the season's business end.

"It's a bit strange to be honest because we finished up earlier than we normally would the last few years," he said almost four weeks on from the season's final game against Leinster.

"This isn't a full competitive game. We have a few experienced guys with the Lions, a few with Ireland, and a few boys taking their holidays early so it is a good chance to get some of the younger guys a bit of exposure.

"It's a pretty mixed squad with a few older guys and a few younger guys and it is a good opportunity to put a few things in place for next season."

Against the likes of Thierry Dusautoir, Horacio Agulla and Kahn Fotuali'i it is sure to be an interesting test for a largely callow Ulster squad, but Herring is keen to see a spark that offers encouragement for the year ahead.

With the Barbarians sure to bring an attractive brand of rugby to Belfast, Ulster will look to match them offload for offload.

After the Scarlets were crowned Guinness PRO12 champions on Saturday with a six-try thumping of Munster, the Welsh side followed in the footsteps of Connacht and Glasgow before them by securing the title playing in a sumptuous style.

Despite the talent available to Les Kiss behind the pack last season, Ulster failed to fire all too often, with the blueprint for success in the league seemingly now set by its most watchable teams.

"You can't push it too far but you look at the way the Scarlets played and they really went and attacked Munster who had the best defence in our league this year," said the hooker.

"You have got to have the skill level to do that and that is something we are going to improve on in the pre-season," commented Herring.

"Once you get that right it is definitely the way to go, and as you see, three really good attacking sides have gone and taken the trophy.

"We're taking this game seriously and we want to win it, but at the same time we're all going to be in the Baa-Baas spirit and play a bit of an expansive game," he added.

The visitors, who were beaten by England in Twickenham on Sunday, added to an already star-studded squad yesterday with the arrival in Belfast of back-to-back World Cup winner Victor Vito.

The former All Black is plying his trade with La Rochelle, who finished first in the Top 14 this season only to be beaten by Toulon in the semi-finals last weekend.

He will be joined by his club-mates Brock James and Vincent Pelo, Bordeaux's Jean-Marcellin Buttin and former Scotland lock Nathan Hines.

Ulster

Barbarians

Exhibition game

Kingspan Stadium, Thursday, 7.30 pm

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From Belfast Telegraph