Heineken Cup: Muller keeps calm with French storm brewing
When you have captained the Springboks — against the All Blacks — as Johann Muller has, you know what big-game pressure means.
Today the giant South African will lead his Ulster players into the cauldron which is Stade Marcel Michelin.
If he has misgivings, they don’t show. On the contrary, he radiates enthusiasm for the challenge. That, of course, stems from what he has seen Ulster do in recent weeks.
Munster, Edinburgh and Leicester Tigers in turn have been put to the sword with Ulster winning those matches 33-17, 42-20 — at Murrayfield — and 41-7 respectively.
Muller tells it like it is, however. He knows that if they are to win in France Ulster must continue to do what they have been doing in the recent past, namely add to the previous week’s performance.
“They’ve got some ridiculous home record,” is his description of ASM Clermont Auvergne’s 38-match unbeaten run at Stade Marcel Michelin.
“So we’re under no illusions as to how tough it’s going to be; they’re a different side at home,” he warns.
“A huge performance is needed again.
“They put 82 points on Aironi at the weekend and for a French side to go away from home and get that sort of result and that kind of performance just shows you the calibre of the team we’re playing.
“But if we can get mentally and physically up for it like we did at weekend (against Leicester) — and put an extra 5-10% onto that — I think we’ll be alright.”
Highlighting Ulster’s strengths he points to their tackling, the quality of their cover and their ability to deny opponents gaps.
“Defensively we’ve been really good of the past couple of weeks and I think we get a lot of energy from our defence.
“Whenever we start to frustrate teams that’s when we start to play really well.”
He is wholly convinced that Clermont’s approach will be to come at Ulster from the start. “Look, knowing the French like I do, they’re not going to hold back. That’s for certain,” Muller says.
“Over here at Ravenhill they kicked the ball quite a bit; I think we had 17 or 18 lineouts in that game.
“I don’t think it’s going to be the same down there. I think they’ll have a full go at us. They’ve got a team that can score tries from all over — they showed that at Aironi — and they’ve got great finishers.
“So we’re expecting a free-flowing game and full-out attack.
“But if we can defend like we’ve done in the past couple of weeks we might just frustrate them a bit and that will get us into the game.”