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Ireland v Wales: Rob Herring out to show he’s Ireland’s best option

Rob Herring made his first Six Nations appearance last weekend – over five years after his Ireland debut
Six Nations: Ireland v Wales
Venue: Aviva Stadium, Dublin Date: Saturday, 8 February Kick-off: 1415 GMT
Coverage: Live on BBC Radio Five, Radio Ulster, Radio Wales and Radio Cymru

Among a host of interesting sub-plots that accompanied Ireland’s Six Nations opener against Scotland was the beginning of life without Rory Best.

The significance of losing Best the captain was somewhat lessened by the appointment of Johnny Sexton, who had been a leader of this team long before he was given the captaincy.

Losing Best the player was an entirely different matter, front rows with 124 international caps don’t come around too often.

But as with the captaincy, the way it played out resembled something like a natural progression.

Since arriving on Irish shores seven and a half years ago, Rob Herring has worked under the knowledge that Best held the starting hooker’s jersey for both Ulster and Ireland.

It’s a credit to Herring that his perception among Ulster fans has never been that of a second fiddle.

When Best was around, or not around as was often the case for the province in his later years, there was little panic as Herring provided a strong and reliable alternative.

But now, for the first time in his Ulster and Ireland career, Herring finds himself in the possession of the starting berth for club and country.

The omission of Niall Scannell and Sean Cronin from Andy Farrell’s Six Nations squad suddenly catapulted Herring to the top of the hooker depth charts having made only eight Ireland appearances.

His first Six Nations appearance on Saturday was a largely positive one and Herring was the recipient of praise from head coach Farrell after the game.

Now though, his challenge is an entirely different one. From the man chasing the starting spot, he is suddenly the one fighting to keep hold of it.

Rob Herring (right) will start again for Ireland on Saturday with Leinster youngster Ronan Kelleher (left) on the bench

Herring battling with Kelleher for jersey

With Leinster’s impressive 22-year-old Ronan Kelleher in it for the long run, every game where Herring is named to start is an opportunity for the Ulster man to build up credit in the bank.

“He and Andy Farrell must have got a good relationship going,” says former Ulster team-mate Stephen Ferris.

“I think we’ll see a bit more of Ronan Kelleher further on in the tournament but it’s a huge opportunity for Rob.

“He’s very dynamic and a very good athlete, Rory Best would be the first person to tell you that Rob’s a much better athlete than him.

“Now that doesn’t necessarily make you a better rugby player but we’ve seen what Rob brings in spades with Ulster this season.”

‘His recent throwing for Ulster hasn’t been good’

Arguably the most pleasing aspect of his outing last week was the line-out, where Ireland were 100% on Herring’s throw, an area which has blighted a largely positive season at Ulster.

“His line-out hasn’t actually been particularly good with Ulster over the last eight weeks,” says Ferris.

“He and Iain Henderson seem to have had a bit of a lack of communication but in his first run-out for Ireland in the Six Nations he was superb.

“The only concern was the scrum. Rory Sullivan gave Tadhg Furlong a bit of a hard time, Cian Healy came off, back on and off again.

“That’s a massive work-on for this weekend. We all know how good a scrummager Rory Best was. He was as strong as an ox with a really hard neck strength.

“Seeing a scrum in the last 30 minutes that was going backwards and being put under pressure really shows you how valuable Rory was in those hard moments in big games.”

For Herring, stepping out of Best’s shadow never appeared to be what he saw as his mission.

Having built a reputation as a solid and dependable option, Herring’s job is to now create his own shadow that Ireland’s other hookers must work to step out of.

Article courtesy of BBC Sport
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