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Herring determined to lay down a marker as he prepares for first Ireland start

By Jonathan Bradley

While there are plenty of players who never get the thrill of pulling on an Ireland Test jersey, once that holy grail has been checked off, there is a natural inclination to strive for more.

Nobody, it seems, wants to be labelled a one-cap wonder.

And yet, until this month, it appeared to be the fate for Ulster's Rob Herring, the hooker who has been so dependable for the province since arriving on these shores in 2012 following a stint with London Irish.

Born in South Africa, but with an Irish grandparent, he made his debut in the green jersey against Argentina in 2014, a cameo that amounted to three minutes in the unfamiliar position of flanker.

At the time it seemed just reward for his efforts as Rory Best's reliable understudy at Ravenhill but, to his frustration, as time wore on it looked like the sum total of his exposure to the Test arena.

Only starting when Best was absent, he would be called up for plenty of subsequent squads in the following three and a half years, including the extended panel for 2015 World Cup, but the journeys up and down to Carton House would prove fruitless as, all too regularly, he found himself sent back to Belfast after the week's training.

Indeed, he had to watch on as three separate hookers were handed their debuts by Schmidt, even while the duopoly of the Best-Sean Cronin axis continued largely uninterrupted.

But, just as all hope seemed lost, the call came to join the camp this month after Cronin was, somewhat surprisingly, excluded and after 41 long months, last weekend brought the belated arrival of cap number two against the nation of his birth.

"The disappointment for me is that I wasn't able to kick on from it," he says of that maiden Ireland outing in Tucuman.

"Last year there was a small part of me that was wondering was that me done, would I be a one-cap wonder?

"Last year was probably the first year I wasn't in and out of Ireland camps - I only played for Ulster - so I think I just had to reset my motivation coming into this season and I'm really enjoying my rugby at the moment.

"It was a massive honour to get that opportunity again and I'm just grateful to Joe for the chance.

"I've always believed I have the ability and I'm good enough to be here so I just need to tick on and keep working away in the background. I knew when my opportunity came I had to take it."

That is just what he did, scoring a try that will live long in his memory after he was on the end of devastating rolling maul against the fast-wilting Springboks, who would suffer even further in the final minute of the 38-3 pasting.

Herring plays down his own part in the score.

"It was a pretty fun weekend," he says with a hint of understatement.

"I was pretty nervous leading up to it and as soon as I got to the Aviva for the Captain's Run on Friday the excitement started building and I couldn't have asked for more when I came on.

"There was a couple of good scrums and the try was a good team effort, I was the lucky one to finish it off. It was brilliant."

While a native of Cape Town, Herring has family in Port Elizabeth with many of the clan having planned to watch him on Ulster's recent visit to play the Kings.

But instead of him returning home, it was his mother and sisters making the opposite journey once he knew he would getting a first run out at the Aviva.

Their presence only added to what was an emotional day for the 27-year-old who was visibly fired up throughout.

"There was probably a few times when you saw me screaming and shouting, it was just a lot of things built up over the years and to finally get that chance was brilliant," he added.

"It was an unbelievable experience."

While it's not an exact science, his presence in Carton House's media rotations certainly seemed to hint that the wait for cap number three would be considerably less than that between one and two, and so it proved when Schmidt named his team for Fiji yesterday.

As has become the norm, the middle Test of the November series sees Ireland rotate a number of senior figures, including Best, which has seen Herring handed his first shot at a starting spot.

Now, Herring wants to lay down a marker moving forward into the Six Nations and beyond.

"I just need to keep improving," he said.

"I'm in the squad now, like Joe said to me 'you're here now so stay here and take it forward' so that's something I need to try and do coming into this week."

Belfast Telegraph


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