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Herring ‘Excited To Be Back’ As Ulster Make Challenge Cup Debut

Herring ‘Excited To Be Back’ As Ulster Make Challenge Cup Debut

Hooker Rob Herring is back on provincial duty this week after five appearances in the Guinness Six Nations ©INPHO/Laszlo Geczo

Ulster are bolstered by some of their returning Ireland internationals for Sunday’s European Challenge Cup round of 16 meeting with Harlequins at the Twickenham Stoop (kick-off 8pm).

Jacob Stockdale, Stuart McCloskey and Billy Burns, who has recovered from a groin injury, will all start in the back-line, with Michael Lowry reverting to the full-back position.

Fit-again winger Robert Baloucoune will relish his first European action since January 2020, and centre James Hume and talismanic scrum half John Cooney also feature from the off.

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The province’s pack is missing regular captain Iain Henderson and Marcell Coetzee, who is out with a hamstring injury, but they do welcome back Ireland hooker Rob Herring.

He will pack down with Eric O’Sullivan and Martin Moore, and behind them are locks Alan O’Connor and Kieran Treadwell, the player-of-the-match last time out against Zebre.

There is one change to the back row from that 49-3 hammering of the Italians, as Nick Timoney reclaims the number 8 jersey, alongside Sean Reidy and stand-in captain Jordi Murphy.

21-year-old Academy lock Cormac Izuchukwu is poised to make his European debut off the bench, while the other forward options are John Andrew, Andrew Warwick, Tom O’Toole and Matthew Rea.

Alby Mathewson, Ian Madigan and Ethan McIlroy are the replacement backs for Ulster’s first ever Challenge Cup game. The province’s 157 European outings have all been in the Heineken Champions Cup so far.

Looking forward to renew rivalries with Harlequins, who lost twice to Ulster in last season’s Champions Cup, hooker Herring said: “It’s exciting to be back. As a team, we want to be competing for Championships. It’s not the Heineken Champions Cup we aspire to play in, but it’s an opportunity for us to go and do that (in the Challenge Cup).

“There’s a lot of excitement around it and there’s a good focus on a tough game against Harlequins. They’ve turned their season around massively and are playing good rugby at the moment.

“It’s a tough challenge for us but one, as a squad, we’re ready to take on. We obviously want to be in the Champions Cup but the way things have gone this year, we only had two rounds and things have had to adapt and we found ourselves in the Challenge Cup.

“It’s still a tournament with a trophy at the end of the day. We want to be competing and that’s the next step we need to take.

“We’ve been close for the last few years and got into play-offs. We need to take that step forward and this is a great opportunity for us. We have good memories from there (the Twickenham Stoop).

“It’s been a good away trip for us in the past, but I think when you look at Harlequins at the moment, they’re the in-form team in the (English) Premiership.

“The way they play, they’re the best team in transition and the backs are brilliant. The forwards bring a good maul. Yes, we’ve had good times in the past but it’s going to take a lot to achieve that again this weekend.”

ULSTER (v Harlequins): Michael Lowry; Robert Baloucoune, James Hume, Stuart McCloskey, Jacob Stockdale; Billy Burns, John Cooney; Eric O’Sullivan, Rob Herring, Martin Moore, Alan O’Connor, Kieran Treadwell, Sean Reidy, Jordi Murphy (capt), Nick Timoney.

Replacements: John Andrew, Andrew Warwick, Tom O’Toole, Cormac Izuchukwu, Matthew Rea, Alby Mathewson, Ian Madigan, Ethan McIlroy.