Rob Herring: Ulster starting to benefit from Kitshoff influence on the team

Ulster’s Rob Herring speaks to the media ahead of Ulster’s Champions Cup match against Toulouse on Saturday Picture: Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker

From a young age Steven Kitshoff was determined to make it big in rugby even as a teenager the prop had tunnel vision of where he wanted to go in the game.

After winning his second world cup with Springboks in October the loose head arrived in Belfast and has helped Ulster to the brink of qualification for the knockout stages of the European Cup and to fourth in the United Rugby Championship table.

Kitshoff has been reunited in the front row at Kingspan Stadium with his old teammate Rob Herring, the two played age grade rugby together in their native South Africa and the Ulster and Ireland hooker recalls a story that shows the prop’s mentality to succeed.

“We played U20s together for Western Province, he was just out of school, and we played a few games together,” said Herring.

“I remember him coming and we had a goal-setting exercise and I sat next to him, and we were talking about medium term, long term goals and I had a whole list of things and looked over at him and his just said ‘Springboks’ from this 18-year-old.”

“I don’t know why that sticks out, but it does, and he’s gone on to do it hasn’t he?”

“I think we’re starting to see a lot more of his influence on our team.”

“He came in and wasn’t going to stamp himself on the team straightaway but as things have gone on, he’s starting to have more influence on things and he’s a quality guy and someone I really enjoy playing with.”

After finding his feet at Ulster Kitshoff is showing his influence on and off the pitch by solidifying the scrum and his input in team meeting.

“Just small things you know I don’t think it’s reinventing the wheel, things like mindset and maybe a few calls have been brought in and stuff like that, nothing major,” added Herring.

“Just having the influence of someone who’s done it at the top level as well as he has and as many times as he has, with someone like him it carries a lot of weight and we have learnt from some of the stuff he has brought in.”

Steven Kitshoff played underage rugby with Rob Herring in South Africa Picture: Brian Little

Ulster face European kingpins Toulouse on Saturday night at Kingspan Stadium, a victory with other results in Pool 2 going their way would see Dan McFarland’s side make the knockout stages with a game to spare but Herring knows the challenge the five-time European champions pose especially in his own position where they have both France hookers Julien Marchand and Peato Mauvaka.

“They’re both good set-piece hookers, they’re both really explosive as well.”

“They are the two hookers with France and they’ve played well over the last few years so, yeah, it’s going to be a good challenge for us whichever hooker is on the pitch at the time will be a good challenge.”

“I think their pack probably weights about a ton, they have some big boys, guys who can carry well, strong scrum.”

“It’s a little messy but they have got some power behind them.”

“One of our strengths is the maul, so we’ve got to take that to them as well.”

“I think it’s going to be a good battle for us to see where we’re at.”

“We’ve had some good competition over the last few weeks against good packs as well so it’s just about backing it up and imposing who we think we are.”

“At the end of the day they have to come into our house, and we’ve got to give them a good welcome.”

“Yes, they do have stars so do we, the competition against them over the last number of times we have played it’s been very close.”