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Ace Rob Herring says forward planning is the key for Ulster

By Michael Sadlier

The art of captaincy is up for discussion with Rob Herring and just how it is that playing the position of hooker seems to have currently thrown up quite a collection of skippers.

After all, Dylan Hartley, Guilhem Guirado and, of course, a certain Rory Best all led their countries in the Six Nations with the latter due to take the reins again from Herring when he returns to playing for Ulster.

"I'm not the most vocal guy so my attitude from the start was to try and lead by example and lead from the front," understates the man who has performed the role of leader admirably this season.

In Best's absences this campaign, starting with the World Cup, Herring has emerged as more than someone who simply fills in for Ireland's most-capped hooker. The Irish-qualified Cape Town native's game has grown considerably alongside his clear ability to lead.

"I have to focus on my role and pick up on things to challenge the ref on," says Herring who is due to play his 92nd game for Ulster against Glasgow at the less than happy hunting ground that is Scotstoun tomorrow evening.

"It (captaincy) is a bit of an added responsibility, but it's not a hindrance. But if you look at the squad there are a lot of leaders and guys with experience in there who have been making it easy for me."

And the 25-year-old modestly says of being elevated this season to lead the side when Best is away or rested: "Guys like Paddy (Jackson) take a lot of pressure off you because he's handling all the plays and directing the team."

Not that it's been plain sailing of late, though, with fourth-placed Ulster losing two PRO12 games in their last six-match segment and, generally, not playing particularly well.

This has considerably upped the pressure on Les Kiss' squad to secure a top four play-off place which is no guarantee with Glasgow - who are just four behind in sixth with a game in hand - leaders Connacht and Leinster still to play in Ulster's nasty-looking five-game run-in.

"The disappointing thing was losing two games (against the Scarlets and Cardiff) but particularly losing the home game to Scarlets)," states Herring of the recent performances.

"You always want to win your home games but obviously that's in the past now and we're looking forward."

And that entails delivering over these last five regulation games. And with the league being so closely contested - six points separate Glasgow from third-placed Scarlets - and still fairly unpredictable, now is definitely the time to stumble upon some form.

"Everyone is so close so if you lose one game you start to look like you're out of the running so if we can go away and win this game it will put us in a good position to potentially even push on for a top two spot," he states of the importance of coming away with a rare win from Glasgow.

And this, too, will be Ulster's first visit to Scotstoun - where the surface now appears to be more sand than grass - since last May's heartbreaking PRO12 play-off defeat when Finn Russell's last-gasp touchline conversion cruelly robbed them of a place in the Kingspan Stadium final.

Herring didn't get any game-time in that knockout clash but was there the week before when a diluted Ulster side were turned over by the Warriors for the regulation season's final round. Not only that but, more recently, the one-time capped Ireland international has had to absorb another blow over his non-involvement in the latter stages of Ireland's Six Nations campaign.

After being around the camp, he didn't make the final cut for the extended squad to face Italy and Scotland with a hamstring tweak against Glasgow, and then an uncharacteristically loose performance against Zebre undoubtedly undermining his hopes of adding to his solitary Irish cap by backing up Best.

He shrugs his shoulders at being surplus to requirements and knows that, soon, he will also be making way for Best at Ulster. In the meantime, though, there is a job to do.

"We just really want to go there (Scotstoun) and lay down a marker and show we can really win these type of tough away games," he says.

Spoken like a true leader.

Belfast Telegraph

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