“It would be a highlight of our careers if we could do something special this year”

“It would be a highlight of our careers if we could do something special this year”

28 days ago

Fixture News

Ulster captain Iain Henderson and hooker Rob Herring are feeling refreshed and ready for Ulster’s next challenge which sees them take on Munster in the URC quarter-final on Friday.

“At this stage of the season, you can enjoy a week off for a bit of a breather,” says Herring. “At the same time, it gives you extra time to prepare. It’s a time to refresh the bodies and come back – particularly against the Sharks, we knew the physical elements of the game they bring.

“It’s going to be the same this weekend. I was feeling it after the Sharks game, so I’m glad there’s a weekend off to re-group and get back to peak physical levels.”

Both players have been in the Ulster squad for the best part of a decade, so they have got to know each other pretty well over the years.

“He’s an incredible room-mate,” Henderson says of Herring. “From the start, you could see the talents he had. It was probably frustrating waiting so long for the old fella [Rory Best] to leave for him to take that number 2 jersey and show what he can do.

“His work around the park is incredible, he is one of our leaders in the set-piece and a big driver in where we’re successful.”

Herring isn’t quite so complimentary about Henderson as a roomie but is effusive in his praise about him as a leader and a player. “Hendy is a terrible room-mate! I’ve never seen a man sleep so much in my life – we always laugh about it. He’s got this super-power that he can close his eyes and be asleep in five seconds. I envy him, to be honest!

“Hendy being our skipper and having that galvanising effect on the pitch, when he plays, it brings a lot of confidence to the team. What he offers on the pitch has been documented enough. He’s an immense player for us and the team is better for him being in it.”

With Ulster and Munster both booking places in the final eight of the URC, Friday night’s game at Kingspan Stadium will most likely serve up a classic Inter-Pro battle between the two sides – not least between the two forward packs.

“It’s part of Munster’s DNA in the way they play,” Herring remarks. “When they came here last time, it was a good battle and the players they have particularly around jackalling and getting turnovers off the ball, they’re the best in the league at it. They’re right up there in terms of their maul as well. Of course, the scrum is the backbone of their strengths. For a forward pack, it’s massive for us. We’re going to need to get it right if we want to go through.”

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A key weapon for Ulster has been their attacking maul – something that other teams have identified but still struggled to contend with. Henderson credits Forwards Coach, Roddy Grant with demanding high standards in training.

“One reason I think we have had a maul going quite well this season is the work people do in training. That is both sides of the ball – mainly it’s in attack and defence – so when we’re mauling in training, it feels like we’re mauling against one of the best defences in the league. When you’re defending, you’re defending against one of the best attacks.

“Roddy does a really good job ensuring that our mauling sessions are always feisty and end up really testing us. That gets us really well prepped for the weekend. In terms of keeping it going, we have to stick to what we know we can do and stick to what we’re good at. Teams come with different plans, but we can attempt to be as well prepared for those plans as we can be.”

With Tadhg Beirne potentially returning to the fold alongside Peter O’Mahony in the pack, both players know from playing alongside them for Ireland the threats they pose in the line-out and at the breakdown.

The Ulster skipper observed, “Pete’s breakdown work and in the wide channels, defensively as well, he adds a massive ballast and belief to teams he plays in. His defensive work in the line-out is massive as well. He’s a jumping threat and he poses threats all over the pitch – not just specific areas. We’re going to have to be really switched-on.

“Those dynamics change how you want to arrange your line-out playing against those types of players [Beirne and O’Mahony], but it will also have massive ramifications on what we want to do around the pitch in terms of breakdown and other defensive threats. We’ll leave that up to the analysis guys and coaches – they do a great job for us. We’ll have our training week as usual and focus on what we can.”

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When it comes to the importance of playing knock-out rugby at home, Herring takes great confidence from playing at Kingspan Stadium.

“We have great support here. We have fans who come to the stadium, week in, week out. Every team that comes here recognises how great it is to play here. We want to be getting knock-out games at home and give that for our supporters. To have that noise behind us is something that we really enjoy doing, getting the crowd behind us. It’s a big motivation for us as well.”

When asked about what players have put their hands up for Ireland selection ahead of the Summer Tour to New Zealand, plenty of names come to mind for Herring.

“I think Andy Warwick is having one of the seasons of his career. The improvements he has had over the last few years, he’s playing brilliant rugby at the moment. Another guy who stands out is big Al [O’Connor]. He’s one of the big drivers in our forward pack. The work he does off the pitch that helps us on the pitch has been immense. So many names stand out; guys who have just come in like Marcus Rea who’s having a great season. He’s almost top of the turnovers.”

Henderson also throws Nathan Doak and Ethan McIlroy into the mix. “They are players who I could easily see featuring.”

The prospect of silverware at the end of the season would be the icing on the cake for those young stars coming through, as well as the stalwarts. “For me personally, it would be to see the young guys winning something,“ says Henderson.  “They have put in so much in the last few years, seeing them progressing. It would be great to get them into a winning mentality. It would be brilliant to have the guys who are born, frustratingly for us, after the Millennium to be able to win stuff. To set them off on the start of their career on a streak of winning trophies would be phenomenal.

“For us lads, it would be something we’ve been working and aspiring for, for a long time. It’s not through lack of trying, but a few very frustrating games and knock-out matches. It would be phenomenal and a highlight of our careers if we could do something special this year.”

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