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Herring is sure Ulster ready for take-off in Munster

 

Powerhouse: Ulster’s Rob Herring on the attack
Powerhouse: Ulster’s Rob Herring on the attack
Rob Herring at this week’s press conference ahead of tonight’s big game at Munster

By Michael Sadlier

He's not complaining, but the usually regimented routine of the professional player has recently been torn asunder for Rob Herring.

The week of Ireland's World Cup quarter-final with New Zealand had just seen Herring drag himself home on a long-haul flight after Ulster's two-game tour back in his native South Africa when the phone rang early the following morning.

It was Joe Schmidt, and with Sean Cronin's World Cup over, he needed Herring to high-tail it to Japan and provide hooker cover just as quickly as he could throw his clothes on and dash to an airport to begin the process of another lengthy flight, except this time through multiple time-zones.

He landed in Japan and went straight to a training session, and then was witness to Ireland's World Cup exit as he looked on from the stands.

At least his tournament kit was secured, if nothing else, as Ireland's failure to make a first ever semi-final meant that Herring's time in the Far East was, well, somewhat shorter than he had hoped.

It was a long way to go just to provide the necessary cover and give Schmidt three fit hookers, but now Herring faced the journey back just days, and several jet-lag induced sleepless nights, after arriving.

He landed back in Belfast on the Tuesday night prior to Ulster's home game with Cardiff Blues and wanted to play, only for wiser counsel to stand the bleary-eyed and now much-travelled 29-year-old down from taking part.

Then last weekend he got 70 minutes under his belt in the rain-drenched win over Zebre and now faces the prospect of tackling Munster at Thomond Park just over a year after Ulster suffered a record 64-7 defeat at the Limerick ground.

Yes, the backdrop could have been a lot less frantic for Herring, who probably feels that he has recently been living on long-haul planes.

All in all, his life has been a bit of a blur these last few weeks.

"I got back from South Africa on the Tuesday night and woke up to a call from Joe (Schmidt) at six in the morning with 'can you be at the airport for 7.30am'," he recalls with, thankfully, a smile.

"It was a bit of a whirlwind experience and I landed in Tokyo at 7am and I was training there by 9.30.

"It was disappointing in the way it all went when I was out there but, for me personally, it was a nice experience to be part of a little bit of a World Cup, though it was tough with the different time-zones."

There was no escaping that washed-out feeling with its attendant body-clock confusion.

"When you get to Japan you don't sleep for the first few nights and I was only there for four or five nights," he says. "Then you are back on a plane and then it is 24-hours travel.

"I got back late on the Tuesday night before the Cardiff game, it took me a few days to feel alright."

It could well end up being his only shot at experiencing a World Cup as the Cape Town native will be 33 next time the tournament comes around, and he may have only just failed to make the initial cut this time after a back spasm forced him off early in August's warm-up game with Italy when Herring won his eighth cap.

"It was just unlucky," is his take on missing out in the first place.

"But now with Ulster hopefully I can put in a string of performances and start getting a bit of rhythm and then hopefully put my hand up for the Six Nations."

New coach Andy Farrell will certainly be interested in how he goes tonight up against Niall Scannell.

But on towards more pressing issues and the first interprovincial of the season at Munster.

Thankfully for Herring he was missing from the record tanking Ulster shipped there the last time they visited in September 2018.

That doesn't mean its shadow isn't hanging around.

"It has been mentioned a couple of times," Herring says of that result.

"Ultimately we want to go down there and represent our province with a performance that does us proud, and last year I don't think we got that.

"It is a tough place to go against a good side, and they haven't lost there for a while so we want to go down and hopefully put in a performance.

"We have spoken as a squad quite a bit and we have set our own goals, but for me it's about going down and firing a few shots and not waiting for them to take control of the game, meaning that suddenly you're a few points behind.

"Going down there it will be a big crowd and atmosphere and we have to start well to put a bit of pressure on them."

He does actually know what it feels like to have won while wearing an Ulster shirt at the Limerick ground having been part of the Ulster side which last tasted victory there back in May 2014.

Though over five years ago, Herring had no difficulty recalling coming off the pitch at Thomond Park with that winning feeling.

"Yes, I definitely remember it because you don't get many victories down there," he states.

"And there are a few boys in our squad that have won down there before, you have to work hard for those victories so they mean a lot when you get them."

Craig Gilroy, Stuart McCloskey, Dave Shanahan, Andy Warwick and Kyle McCall are the only current Ulster squad members, along with Herring, who were there that day.

It's a neat piece of history but of little real value to Herring and the team togging out in Limerick later tonight.

They want the here and now, a win to keep them second in Conference B and a result they can take towards Europe when they travel to Bath next weekend.

Herring reckons there is more to come from Ulster and today would be a good time to show it.

"I think this season we have been okay but we haven't hit our full stride yet and haven't had the complete performance yet. This weekend it's going to take that to get the victory down there," he adds.

At least there are no time-zones for this journey.

Conference A

PWDLFAPts

Leinster66002207229

Ulster540115111519

Toyota Cheetahs53021869717

Glasgow Warr520310710410

Dragons62041151809

Ospreys5104651595

Zebre5005601812

Conference B

Munster540114710420

Edinburgh64021659819

Connacht640214411119

Scarlets540112110017

Benetton520310614311

Cardiff Blues5104921196

Southern Kings5005941902

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