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Herring Included In Ulster’s Touring Squad For South Africa

Herring Included In Ulster’s Touring Squad For South Africa

Ireland international Rob Herring has not played for Ulster since their impressive New Year's Day win away to provincial rivals Leinster ©INPHO/Bryan Keane

Coming back from the bicep injury that ruled him out of the Ireland’s Six Nations campaign, Rob Herring has been included in the 30-man Ulster squad for their two upcoming BKT United Rugby Championship matches in South Africa.

Led by newly-arrived interim head coach Richie Murphy, Ulster will play the Hollywoodbets Sharks in Durban this Saturday afternoon, before moving on to Cape Town where they will take on the DHL Stormers on Saturday week.

Captain Iain Henderson, Stuart McCloskey, and Tom O’Toole are all back from international duty, and Herring, Tom Stewart, and Nick Timoney, who joined the trio at the Aviva Stadium last Saturday for Ireland’s title-winning celebrations, are also part of the touring party.

While Jacob Stockdale misses out due to ‘family reasons’, according to Murphy, Herring is eager to return to action having been sidelined since January. Ulster have won three of their last four BKT URC games to sit fifth in the table, level on 34 points with fourth-placed Edinburgh.

“It’s an important two weeks for us, to be together as a squad, build connections. Touring is great for that, we love rugby for that challenge,” said Herring, the Cape Town-born hooker.

“It’s a perfect opportunity for us, we spend time together in the hotel, having dinner together, so these tours are great for working on that togetherness.

“I got the go-ahead from surgeon and want to build confidence back on it, but (I’m) feeling good. It’s been a frustrating season for me, I came back from the Rugby World Cup, had a small calf strain, then had ligament damage in my ankle, and then popped my bicep in training.

“It’s one of those things you have to deal with. It’s been hard watching, you want to be there with the boys and help, but looking forward to getting stuck in.”

The Ulstermen have won their last six matches against South African opponents since losing the 2022 semi-final to the Stormers. They have played the Sharks just twice before, including last February’s 31-24 bonus point win during which Stewart touched down twice.

Fresh from guiding the Ireland Under-20s to a runners-up finish in the U-20 Six Nations Championship, Murphy is hoping ‘little changes will make big impacts’ as he takes the reins at Ulster at a crucial stage of the season.

The Bray man will be well supported by assistant coach Dan Soper, and Jonny Bell (defence), Roddy Grant (forwards), and Craig Newby (skills). In addition, Ireland scrum coach John Fogarty has taken up a part-time role with the province.

“John Fogarty is with us for a period of time to help us out,” explained Murphy, before the squad’s departure for South Africa.

“Obviously Dan McFarland would have done the scrum coaching before, so John comes in on a part-time basis, for two days a week and to prep the scrum for each of the games.

“He will travel to South Africa from Thursday to next Wednesday and he’ll review the Sharks match and help get us ready for the Stormers.”

From his time as a kicking and skills coach in the Ireland senior set-up, to his four seasons in charges of the Ireland U-20s, Murphy has worked with some of the Ulster players before, and is determined to have a positive impact on the squad.

“In my head it’s about little things, I think you’ll see that after a period of time. Hopefully it’s to try and create a buzz around the place and grow that competitive nature for the lads, which was there to see in training,” he said.

“We want to nurture that competitive environment where older players and young players are competing for the jersey. If we can do that we will have a positive impact.

“I see a very enthusatic side, who are over-trying in some ways, and we want to get the balance between the technical side of things and just play. I can’t fault the players for what I’ve seen over this short time.

“We want to make a real connection and drive that competitiveness to make a big impact on results.”

ULSTER Squad (v Hollywoodbets Sharks & DHL Stormers) – Backs (13): John Cooney, Dave Shanahan, Nathan Doak, Billy Burns, Jake Flannery, Jude Postlethwaite, James Hume, Stuart McCloskey, Stewart Moore, Michael Lowry, Ethan McIlroy, Robert Baloucoune, Will Addison.

Forwards (17): Steven Kitshoff, Andrew Warwick, Eric O’Sullivan, Tom O’Toole, Scott Wilson, Tom Stewart, John Andrew, Rob Herring, Kieran Treadwell, Iain Henderson (capt), Harry Sheridan, Cormac Izuchukwu, Matthew Rea, David McCann, Nick Timoney, Marcus Rea, Sean Reffell.