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Ulster new boy Brett Herron keen to show he can mount challenge to Paddy Jackson

By Jonathan Bradley

With Ulster squeezing in an extra pre-season friendly, new out-half Brett Herron knows that tomorrow's tussle with Leinster represents a real chance for him to stake a claim.

After his Ireland exploits this summer, Paddy Jackson's late return to training means he is not expected to be involved in the interpro at Navan RFC in County Meath, and those who will instead get an opportunity to pull the strings know there is plenty riding on their performance.

With Jackson's Test career trending upwards after two years of selection frustration, the undisputed starting 10 is expected to miss plenty of important Guinness Pro12 games throughout the campaign.

So after Ian Humphreys' retirement at the end of last season, Director of Rugby Les Kiss will need a new, and reliable, back-up.

This was part of the reason for Herron's recruitment - the 20-year-old is Irish qualified despite having represented England at underage level and left Bath to seek more first-team opportunities - and he will compete with Sam Windsor and Johnny McPhillips for the role.

A talented playmaker, Herron is excited by this maiden chance to showcase his skills.

"I'm really, really looking forward to getting that Ulster shirt on for the first time," said the man who spent time at Rosslyn Park last season.

"We want to be able to go out and really try to put on a show. We want to get into Leinster's face and show them what we can do. Hopefully we're going to get a 'W' but I'm really just looking forward to getting out there now," he added.

No matter the occasion, a first hit-out is always sure to generate butterflies but Herron has settled well at Kingspan, saying Windsor and Darren Cave have been particularly helpful.

"The guys have been making sure that all the new boys feel welcome," he said.

"We had a week out in Portugal for a training camp and that was a good opportunity to really get to know the boys. It's been a really good experience so far for my first few months of Ulster Rugby.

"It's obviously a little bit daunting, getting to know a whole new playbook, but we've progressed well and Sam Windsor has been really helpful, giving me the calls and the patterns.

"I've spent a lot of time with him just asking different questions on where the playbook will go and where to set-up off certain things.

"Darren Cave as well has been really exceptional in just helping me get my understanding up to scratch for the game this weekend.

"We've been building well and I'm just really looking forward to being able to put that all into a game situation and put it to use."

Leinster coach Leo Cullen seems equally enthused about the first action of a new campaign having named a 32-man squad that contains the likes of Irish internationals Fergus McFadden, Josh van der Flier and Mike McCarthy.

"Saturday can't come soon enough for the players," he said.

"They are very much looking forward to visiting Navan and playing in front of the home support.

"Pulling on the Leinster jersey for the first time this season after a tough pre-season schedule is something they are all excited by. For some players like Mike McCarthy, Josh van der Flier and Fergus McFadden it will be a great opportunity to reintegrate back into the team after missing out on the tail-end of last season.

"Ian Nagle and Niall Morris, two new players, are keen to get up and running and get used to their new team mates in a match situation.

"Andrew Porter and Vakh Abdaladze, who starred at the recent Under-20s World Championships with Ireland, Nick McCarthy, Ross Byrne, Joey Carbery, Tom Daly... this is a great opportunity for those players."

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