Milestone beckons for Rob Herring as Ulster seek third win

Hooker in line to make his 200th appearance for the province against Benetton

Two games and 10 points. As starts go, Ulster’s looks healthy in terms of its return with only leaders Munster having achieved the same total.

That there were less than assured parts to Ulster getting the better of Glasgow first up at home and Zebre away last Saturday is, in many ways, just an expected aspect of early season fare and disruption due to injuries.

A certain looseness to some areas of Ulster's play has been observed – their driving maul was not the weapon it was expected to be against Zebre – and is naturally a heavy work-on for this Friday's visit to the Kingspan by Rainbow Cup winners Benetton who are also unbeaten after two rounds.

But the feelgood factor prevails with the prospect of another large and vocal home crowd on Friday evening always a boost – even though Dan McFarland is still without the services of several key players.


Indeed, Stuart McCloskey (hamstring), Robert Baloucoune (groin) and John Cooney (hamstring) are all ruled out of the Benetton game, after only featuring in the opening week, while Jacob Stockdale’s ankle problem will be assessed over the next few days in terms of his possible involvement.

McCloskey and Stockdale’s problems are described as ones picked up during training. Jordi Murphy also remains sidelined and has not featured yet this season. Interestingly, his issue is not specified, but is also stated as one recently sustained during training.

While Ulster forwards coach Roddy Grant will be focusing on ways to negate and dominate Benetton Rugby's pack, as the northern province aim to considerably up the ante for their set-piece plays, there was, at least, the good news that that hooker Rob Herring could be making his 200th appearance.

Should the Ireland hooker be involved this week, he will become only the seventh Ulster player to hit the double-century. While giving nothing away regarding Herring’s availability, Grant heaped praise on the 31-year-old Cape Town native’s pending milestone after making his debut back in August 2012.

“Fingers-crossed he can [play],” Grant, who also hails from South Africa, said without a flicker in terms of whether Herring will have his moment in a few days’ time in front of the Kingspan faithful.

Awesome achievement

“It’s a really good reflection of him as a player, as a pro and as a person. He’s always passionate about the club. Two hundred games is an awesome achievement. That speaks volumes of him as a player.

“He’s a great guy, a good leader and works really hard. He is a pleasure to coach and is very coachable. He always plays consistently and his actions are his leadership. He talks well, he talks sense and he understands the game well.

“Like all hookers he plays a key part in the forwards both at set-piece, scrum and maul but he’s also dynamic around the pitch,” added Grant and there was further evidence of what he brings at Zebre through one turnover won during a sticky moment for the visitors.

Besides the win, Grant and the coaching ticket will be seeking enhanced levels of accuracy and assuredness from the side this Friday.

“The aim is to take a large step forward this week,” Grant stated. “Both performances [so far] had some good stuff but there has been a lot to work on.

“They have certainly not been the most polished performances. We had quite a robust and honest forwards’ review [after last weekend in Zebre] which was great and those are always easier after a win.”

Though they will be expected to get the better of coach Marco Bortolami’s Benetton squad, Grant expects an even more physical contest up front than Ulster have, so far, experienced.

“They have had a great start to the season, two from two and playing really good rugby. Our mindset from a forwards’ point of view is that we’re coming to give them a crack. We’re preparing accordingly in all areas of the game.”