Neil Doak makes no secret of his admiration for Ulster’s foreign legion.
South Africans Johann Muller — the team captain — Ruan Pienaar and Pedrie Wannenburg have impressed the Ulster assistant coach enormously by virtue of what they have added in the past two seasons.
New Zealander John Afoa’s impact since arriving in October has been immense, too.
As Doak sees it, they will be hugely important figures in Sunday’s battle with Munster.
Because despite what they had already achieved before coming here — Muller captained the Springboks for whom Wannenburg earned 20 caps and in whose colours Pienaar was a World Cup winner in 2007, a feat matched by All Black Afoa in 2011 — they have bought into Ulster.
“Johann has played in big games, Currie Cups, World Cups and yet he says that one of the best games atmosphere-wise was at Clermont this year,” Doak said.
“Those guys bring so much experience that the younger players can work off that. They’re pretty calm under pressure, they have played in that environment and they know what it takes.
“Johann can speak from experience and maybe settle some of the younger, inexperienced guys’ nerves. They do bring that settling effect and everybody can rally round that and hopefully go in the right direction,” he added.
Their example in training has been a big plus, too. Indigenous players are progressing as a result of working alongside these role-models on a daily basis.
Doak knows motivation will be no problem on Sunday, for apart from a place in the European Cup semi-finals on offer and it being an inter-pro, there is the matter of grabbing the opportunity to outshine a competitor for an Irish jersey. Ireland coach Declan Kidney is going to be there watching — and there is a three-game tour of New Zealand looming.
“This is potentially a trial in Irish terms so there’s no better place to go than Thomond Park to put a marker down by getting a win on Sunday,” he said.
Doak urged caution, however, insisting that players of that mindset must be totally focused.
“If guys go off at individual tangents we’ll be going nowhere,” he warned.
“When you go and play Munster it’s a full team effort.
“We’ve all got to be singing off the same hymn-sheet and making sure that we put chances away.”
Doak knows that the work of the coaching staff having been done, it will all come down to who wants it more.
“At this level it’s just about giving a few pointers,” he said of his role at this stage.
“We’ve got World Cup winners, senior internationals and a sprinkling of younger guys so we’ve just got to make sure that they’re fresh and ready to go and that we’ve identified a few areas that we want to target.”