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Rob Herring on the World Cup and Champions Cup elephants in the room


On throw: Rob Herring is keen for Ulster to push on against the Kings
On throw: Rob Herring is keen for Ulster to push on against the Kings

By Michael Sadlier

There are a couple of elephants in the room but Rob Herring has become pretty accustomed to sharing space with them.

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First up is the Ireland situation. With Sean Cronin dropping out of the reckoning after the Italy game, Herring got the call-up to the squad for the last two Six Nations fixtures but failed to feature in either matchday 23, with Munster's Niall Scannell covering from the bench.

Now Herring's prospects of making the World Cup squad will probably hinge on what he might end up doing for Ireland's warm-up games over the summer and, of course, the situation regarding injuries.

"It was a nice surprise to be called back in and I didn't go in with any expectations or anything," admitted the 28-year-old, who previously featured for Joe Schmidt last November against the USA.

"But it was great to be back in the mix and just training with the guys and being able to put a performance in during training and just keep myself in the thoughts of the coaches.

"It was a good couple of weeks (with Ireland) and, yes, it's a big tournament (the World Cup) next season."

And the other elephant? Well, that brings in next weekend's Champions Cup quarter-final against Leinster, Ulster's first taste of European knockout rugby since 2014, and the expected return of Rory Best to the starting side, with Herring bench-bound and waiting for his moment.

It seems to have been ever thus. Herring has patiently waited for Best to leave the stage but the 36-year-old Ireland and Ulster skipper has hung on in there and, though he will retire from Test rugby after the autumn's World Cup, it is still unclear if the Poyntzpass native is intent on staying around at his home province.

Though the playing field would undoubtedly level out some more after the autumn should Best - the then 37-year-old no longer involved with Ireland - still be part of the Ulster squad, the ideal situation for Herring, who has been at Kingspan Stadium since the summer of 2012, would undoubtedly be to just get a clear run as the province's front-line No.2.

Either way, the Cape Town native is not going there.

"There is that big game next week (against Leinster at the Aviva) but, to be honest, no one has really mentioned it," he insisted before switching attention to Saturday's Guinness PRO14 meeting with the Southern Kings, Ulster's penultimate regulation season home game.

"We've come in (this week) and been solely focused on the Kings."

And Herring applies some powerful logic to the importance of making the PRO14 play-offs in terms of longer-term thinking regarding Europe.

"There is no point in progressing in Europe this year if we're not in the mix for it next year so, in terms of our side of the table, we really need to be kicking on and hopefully pushing for that home play-off spot in the PRO14," he said. "It starts this weekend, and particularly (with the game) at home as well."

Coming into the match off the back of three straight wins over the Six Nations period has given Ulster renewed belief and allowed them to make vital progress up the table to third spot.

The intention, and expectation, is to make that four victories on the trot when up against Conference B's sixth-placed side, who have only two wins in 17 games.

"It's massive," said Herring of the need to get a good win over his fellow South Africans.

"We've done well over the Six Nations period and it would be a shame to rock up this weekend and not put in the performance with the intensity we've had for the last few games.

"Our side of the table is very tight (just five points separate fourth-placed Scarlets from Benetton in second) and these are the games where we've really got to put in performances and hopefully get a big win."

He then referenced last September's 28-7 win, when the sides first met this season in Port Elizabeth, as one where Ulster didn't exactly fire on all cylinders in the three-try victory.

"The game away to the Kings was a difficult one," he recalled.

"It was very stop-start and we probably didn't use the advantage of all the penalties, they had 23 penalties against them or something like that.

"At the same time I think it was 12 balls we turned over in contact, so with 23 penalties and 12 balls in contact turned over it's hard to get anything going.

"For us this weekend, we have really got to keep control of the ball.

"We need to put some phases together and hopefully get another dominant set-piece performance.

"It's about us controlling that and hopefully taking the life out of them and imposing our game on them."

Regardless of their lowly position, Herring reckons Ulster dare not be complacent.

"They are a dangerous side. Just look at some of the games they've played," he added.

"We watched a few clips from the Edinburgh game (the Kings won in January) and some of the tries they're scoring are ridiculous.

"If we give them space and time they can do damage.

"But we're fresh and ready and hopefully it's going to show on Saturday night."

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