Experienced Irish hooker Rob Herring has never doubted his ability to play at a Rugby World Cup as he prepares to make up for past disappointments with an overdue tournament debut.
South African-born Herring was selected to start Saturday’s opening Group B game against Romania ahead of the fit-again Ronan Kelleher and in the absence of the injured Dan Sheehan.
The 33-year-old was called up by Joe Schmidt ahead of the 2015 and 2019 competitions before being left out of the final squad.
He then flew to Japan four years ago as an injured replacement for Sean Cronin, but was not involved when Ireland were eliminated by New Zealand in the quarter-finals and has since been overshadowed by the emergence of Leinster pair Sheehan and Kelleher.
“Yeah, it’s been a long run for me,” Herring said. “I was involved in the previous two World Cup preparations and missed selection. So I think all the work over the last year has been worth it to be here now.
“I always believed that I was good enough to be here. The selection decisions were close at the last World Cup.
“I have been heavily involved in the squad since the last World Cup and am really enjoying my time under Faz (Andy Farrell) and the leadership of the coaches.
“It’s been a great four years and I can’t wait to get started.
“There’s obviously a little more hype around the World Cup and a little more pressure on the games, but we’ve been building on that. Personally, I think I’m fine.”
Herring, who is eligible for Ireland via a grandparent, made his international debut as a substitute flanker during the 2014 tour of Argentina.
When head coach Farrell took over from Schmidt after the 2019 World Cup, he had won just eight caps, but started all five games of the 2020 Guinness Six Nations following the retirement of Rory Best.
Although he remains a regular in the squad, Herring, who will make his 38th Test appearance this weekend, has become more peripheral since the breakthrough of the dynamic duo of Kelleher and Sheehan.
“My attitude is that this is just the beginning,” the Ulster player said.
“It is a great honor to be selected for the squad but this is just the beginning. I want to do my best and contribute to the team as much as I can.
“I think if I do my role well and everyone else plays their role, we will deliver a strong performance.”
Ireland will be led in Bordeaux by Johnny Sexton, who has returned from suspension and injury.
Herring believes fly-half Sexton is the type of captain his teammates “want to follow into battle.”
“Johnny is one of the most competitive players I have ever played under,” he said.
“I think that’s his huge difference. He is incredibly motivated, he sets standards in training, off the pitch, in everything.
“He has an incredible winning mentality, so he’s the guy you definitely want to follow into battle. You know he will do his best and do his best. It was great to have him back.”