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We'll step up and flex muscles in Best's absence: Ulster's Wiehahn Herbst

 

By Jonathan Bradley

Despite the news that hooker Rory Best will remain on the sidelines for the coming weeks, prop Wiehahn Herbst believes the province's other front-rowers can keep the side on track until their skipper returns.

Ulster and Ireland skipper Best has not played since representing the Lions over the summer and, in training last week, sustained a hamstring tear that will keep him out of action for a reported four to six weeks.

The absence of Ulster's first and only Test centurion leaves Les Kiss without the only real international experience he has to call upon at the coalface.

Best boasts 104 of the 108 Ireland caps possessed by Ulster's front-row options, and Rob Herring's sole Test exposure actually came at flanker, but in the absence of the side's most obvious leader against Scarlets on Friday night, the front-row more than held their own.

Up against an all-Welsh international front-row, and deprived of their most destructive ball carriers, the men up front for Ulster showed plenty of the required grunt in what was something of a statement victory.

And even with the possibility that Best does not make his seasonal bow until the winter, Herbst says the Ulster pack are ready and willing to take on all comers.

"It's good for us to go up against good opposition," said the 28-year-old. "That's how you test yourself and it was good for us to get the result on Friday.

"Of course it's good to get a victory like that. It was a really tight first half and for us to finish the game like that was really pleasing.

"We're not getting carried away, it's the third game of the season. There's a lot of games to play. We have to work week by week."

And with last week's trio of Kyle McCall, Herring and Herbst seemingly the first choice group until the injured return, the South African native believes the benefit of a full summer together, working with new coaches Jono Gibbes and Aaron Dundon, will reap its rewards.

"We had a really good pre-season together and we worked through all the combinations. We know the player you're playing next to, no matter who it is," he said.

"That's really important when you're playing as a team. As a front-row, we have to be able to work together.

"It's brilliant so far with Jono and Aaron. I really enjoy what they're bringing to the club. It's really good to get a fresh insight.

"It's growing week by week, the more we play together the more we get used to it.

"Every week should be a learning week, bring something else that you have to work on. It's been good so far."

And the hope is that the trend continues against Dragons on Friday night (7.35pm kick-off).

Having beaten the league champion Scarlets last week, the expectation will be that Ulster again see off Welsh opposition at Kingspan Stadium, even if Bernard Jackman's men come into the contest with momentum themselves having beaten Connacht last time out.

Not just the Rodney Parade outfit's first win of the season, but the victory against the westerners was a first after 14 straight losses.

Having not won a league game on the road since March of 2015, however, the visitors come more in hope than expectation and are expected to heavily rotate their squad.

With an eminently winnable contest against the faltering Southern Kings back in Newport next week, securing back-to-back home wins seems to be the priority.

"For us, we focus on what we build every game," said Herbst to the suggestion that it would be key to build upon last week's banner victory.

"We respect the Dragons, they're always a tough side. We have to do our basics and our skills. There's depth in their squad. We know it's tough no matter who they send. We focus on ourselves."

While Herbst's gaze is fixed inward this weekend, PRO14 supporters of all sides will no doubt have one eye on events in South Africa.

With Leinster and Zebre the first sides to venture south this season, the sight of a practically empty stadium when the former met Kings last weekend will have caused some concern.

Herbst, though, believes the revamped tournament will soon capture the imagination in his homeland.

"It will take a few games for them, they're not used to the rugby," said the man who played for the Sharks in his homeland.

"Usually there was good support there. Maybe it's the unfamiliarity. With time, people will see the quality and be more supportive."

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