Rónan Kelleher (Leinster)
Height: 1.83m (6')
Weight: 105kg (16st 6lbs)
Leinster appearances: 13 (nine tries)
Why he's so important? Kelleher has demonstrated a remarkable capacity to step up to whatever level has been thrust in front of him, all the while retaining the ability to excel and stand out irrespective of the company in terms of his play.
He demonstrated this at underage level, on making his Leinster debut in the Pro 14 and then acquitting himself superbly in the Champions Cup. He made his Ireland debut off the bench in the opening Six Nations Championship game against Scotland and came on against Wales and England subsequently.
He understudied Herring in those three matches and it will be interesting to watch the tussle at hooker that has connotations for both the game and also when it comes to Ireland’s upcoming Test schedule.
Trivia: He started in the backs, played hooker in fourth year, switched to prop for sixth year, before reverting to hooker again. It underlines why he makes a huge contribution in all facets of the game, based on power, speed, vision and handling skill. He is strong in the scrum and has always shown an aptitude physically even as a young hooker, playing with Lansdowne in the AIL League. The younger brother of Leinster wing, Cian, the son of St Michael's principal, Tim and Karen, who teaches in the school, he has a remarkable try-scoring rate of nine in just 13 Leinster appearances.
Rob Herring (Ulster)
Height: 1.85m (6' 1")
Weight: 102kg (16st)
Ulster appearances: 182 (19 tries)
Ireland caps: 11 (one try)
Why's he so important? The fact that he periodically captained Ulster in the absence of the now retired Rory Best underlined his importance and standing with the squad. While he is extremely capable in the set piece, it is his athleticism, support play, handling and work at the breakdown, particularly in a defensive capacity that make him such a well rounded player.
He’s had to be patient but now having secured the starting role at province and for Ireland has been handed the opportunity to consistently prove his credentials. He’s scored tries in Ulster’s last two matches.
Ireland coach Andy Farrell made Herring his first-choice hooker with the national side during the abbreviated Six Nations, starting him in all three games against Scotland, Wales and England, a position he'll be keen to retain with a heavy Test match schedule looming.
Trivia: Born in Cape Town he arrived in Ulster in 2012 via London Irish and won his first cap for Ireland against Argentina in the summer of 2014. He had to wait three years for his next, a 14-minute try-scoring cameo against the Springboks. He started against Fiji, the following week, played in all three Tests against Australia the following summer and managed one more against the USA in 2018 before travelling as an unused injury replacement to the World Cup in Japan. He's been keeping in regular contact with his family in South Africa via Zoom and weekly family quizzes.