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Ulster must take the next step and instil culture of success at Kingspan Stadium, believes Herring

 

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On a mission: Rob Herring believes beating Harlequins would send a message

On a mission: Rob Herring believes beating Harlequins would send a message

On a mission: Rob Herring believes beating Harlequins would send a message

Stephen Ferris and Paddy Wallace, then Roger Wilson followed by Tommy Bowe and Andrew Trimble. Finally, Rory Best.

Gradually, the final remnants of Ulster's last trophy-winning team have slipped away in recent years, last season representing the first campaign in which there was not one of the 2006 Celtic League champions still knocking around the Kingspan Stadium squad.

With the 15-year anniversary of that triumph fast approaching, the province's long silverware drought will come into even sharper focus in the coming weeks and months should it be allowed to drag into yet another campaign.

With Sunday's Challenge Cup last-16 clash against Harlequins a sizeable first hurdle that must be overcome in Europe's second-tier competition, the presence of in-form English opposition ensures that, even without the continent's heaviest of hitters, this is a trophy that will still need to be earned the hard way.

For hooker Rob Herring, who will make his 191st Ulster appearance on Sunday - one fewer than the squad's most experienced player Craig Gilroy - such a success would represent a vital step in the side's development.

The Irish international made his debut in a team that had reached the Heineken Cup final the previous year but could not get over the hump in the seasons that followed. While this latest incarnation of the side has reached domestic semi-finals and a final, as well as the last-eight of the Champions Cup on two occasions, ultimate glory has remained equally elusive to date.

"There is a big difference in believing you can do something and actually doing it," Herring said. "I think winning breeds another whole level of confidence.

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"Especially with the young guys in the squad, we just have to get that monkey off our back and move forward from there.

"As a squad we need to take that next step and (believe) that will breed further success.

"No one in the squad has won anything with Ulster, we have been so close on multiple occasions but we just haven't got across the line for various reasons.

"When people have that feeling of winning, it makes them have that want to do it again. As a club, we want to be winning championships.

"This isn't the Champions Cup that we aspire to but it's still a chance for us to go and do that and take a step forward. It's still a tournament with a trophy at the end of the day.

"I'm a big believer in the squad we have now and the young guys coming up, I think as a province we are in a really good place and there is so much to be excited for, but we have to take that next step now to go and win something and know that just drives everything forward.

"We've been close the last few years, we've been to play-offs, we've played in a PRO14 final, we need to take that step.

"Guys have come in this week and there has been a lot of excitement around the game."

The 30-year-old will be making his first appearance in Ulster white since the loss to Leinster in early January and just his seventh of the season.

It's a marked departure from his career pattern, the Cape Town native never before having played fewer than 18 times in a campaign for his province.

Continuing to show remarkable durability, his absence at provincial level has been thanks to his Ireland involvements rather than any injury issue. Having won 10 caps over the course of the season, gone are the days of regular shuttles between Belfast and Dublin, training with Ireland but turning out for Ulster during international windows.

"It is a bit of a different situation for me," he admitted. "Past Six Nations campaigns have been kind of back and forward, and then also with the Autumn Cup this year that took a lot of time away from Ulster.

"It's different but it is also exciting (coming back in).

"I love playing with the guys here and we are all really a tight squad. To come back in, you want to add energy to your game, and I am just looking forward to contributing as much as I can."

For all his experience and previous high performance, to return to the side with his recently earned status as a front-line international will come with a different expectation too.

"I think just having that experience now at international level, where the consequences of messing up a line-out or a scrum is that much higher and to feel that pressure and overcome it, just adds to whatever experience you have," he said.

"I am always trying to develop as a player, I am nowhere near the perfect player, I am always trying to learn things and get better, and that is an area over the Six Nations where I have grown, and if I can bring that composure back to Ulster then that is great."

Such an attribute will be welcome come Sunday as Ulster round out the European weekend at The Stoop. The northern province have won there twice in recent seasons but Harlequins are a different proposition now, sitting fourth in the Premiership and chasing a semi-final spot.

"We have good memories there and it has been a good away trip for us in the past, but you look at Harlequins at the moment and they are probably the form team in the Premiership with the way they play and the style they play," added Herring.

"So, yes, we have had good times there in the past, but it is going to take a lot to achieve that again this weekend. They have turned their season around massively, they're playing some good rugby at the moment. Their backs are playing brilliantly and their forwards have a good maul.

"They have definitely gone back to their DNA and they push the tempo, they play off the cuff, they score tries in transition. We'll have to have each other's backs, which is what we do at Ulster. It's a tough challenge but one as a squad that we're looking to take on."

That challenge is made all the tougher, of course, by the increasing weight of all those near misses upon their shoulders.

Belfast Telegraph


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