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Ulster must get set-piece firing again to beat Southern Kings, warns Herring

 

Fronting up: Rob Herring leads out Ulster in South Africa
Fronting up: Rob Herring leads out Ulster in South Africa
Cheetahs’ Ruan Pienaar last weekend

By Michael Sadlier

Monday evening was a welcome break and an opportunity to, at least temporarily, shake off that nagging feeling which lingers in the wake of a bad evening at the office.

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Back in his home city for today's Southern Kings clash, Rob Herring caught up with family members and went for a barbecue to at least let him kick back from being around the hotel, or team room, when not either in the gym, attending a meeting or going through drills on the training ground.

Being in Cape Town again was good. The familiarity of home, even though Herring has been living in Ulster for the last seven years, and the surroundings of the city at the foot of the spectacular Table Mountain was recuperative for Ulster's 29-year-old hooker and skipper.

As he explained: "I didn't ever think I would be in Cape Town with an Ulster team and it has been pretty good.

"I had a barbecue at my mum's house last Monday, got to see a few of my family and that was a good bit of head-space for me.

"It has also been good to show the boys around, we've actually been training at the grounds of my old school, so it has been pretty fun."

Fun? There was precious little of that to be had in Bloemfontein. After the Cheetahs game, Herring met former team-mate Ruan Pienaar, but the nature of the result made the reunion not quite what it might have been.

"A few of us spoke to him for a bit after the game," Herring recalled. "It was obviously nice to see him, but obviously the circumstances were not great and he was a bit more chatty than we were."

With that, it was down to Cape Town and that time for chilling out. It's been important to draw breath before going again. Lately, it's all been a bit off-key.

Being left out of the World Cup squad wasn't a great moment for Herring, and was probably his best chance of ever making it there, and no doubt watching Jordi Murphy make his way to Japan made him reflect again.

Then there has been finally taking over as Ulster's starting hooker from Rory Best. Herring has waited a long time for this to happen and then Ulster put in a hardly over-convincing opening result against the Ospreys before, back on South African soil, he and his team-mates were put through the wringer by the Cheetahs.

Like all the squad, Herring wants to park that Cheetahs spanking, but can't quite as he is asked to explain what happened.

"I actually think the warm-up was the best we have been before the games, (there was) a lot of buzz and a lot of energy and I just think the way we played probably sucked a bit of energy out of us," Herring said.

"We weren't able to get on top of things, we lost a few lineouts, we got turned over at a maul, we made a few defensive errors and (conceded) some pretty easy tries (all) in the first 20 minutes.

"That sucks the life out of your performance."

Ah yes, the lineouts. Four went south in the first half in Bloemfontein. The hooker tends to be blamed when they go wrong though, in truth, it is a much more complex system also involving callers, jumpers and lifters.

"When your set piece is misfiring like that it doesn't help. Hopefully it will be fixed for this weekend," he said.

"We are not a team that wants to be fighting for losing bonus points or four tries when the game is already lost, that is not what we are about," stated the skipper before delivering a message probably already uttered to the squad.

"The Kings have shown over the last two years that if we are a bit loose in our ball retention, or if our set-piece isn't firing, it is hard to pull away.

"So, a good start is what is exactly needed.

"We are in a positive space and we have turned the page pretty quickly to get things right for this game," added Ulster's captain.

Selection-wise, as rumoured, Ulster have flown Stuart McCloskey out for his first PRO14 start while the season's initial sighting of Marcell Coetzee, after his World Cup warm-up injury, is also a welcome one.

James Hume makes way for McCloskey while Greg Jones does likewise regarding Coetzee.

The other alterations from Dan McFarland entail Billy Burns being brought back to play 10 for Bill Johnston, Louis Ludik starting instead of Rob Lyttle and Alan O'Connor being given a chance to rumble with Kieran Treadwell looking on from the bench.

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