Wannenburg a familiar face in Castres side
Most Ulster supporters admit to having limited knowledge of Castres Olympique who provide the opposition in tonight’s Heineken Cup Pool 4 curtain-raiser.
Castres, from the Languedoc, in the shadow of the Pyrenees, aren’t one of French rugby’s best-known clubs, despite their achievement in reaching the semi-finals of last season’s Top 14.
But their previous employees include Ulster pair Jeremy Davidson and Mark McCall, who served in the roles of forwards coach and backs coach respectively between 2007 and 2009.
And one current Castres player to whom Ulster followers certainly can relate is South African back-row forward Pedrie Wannenburg.
Following two seasons with Ulster, the 20 times-capped former Springbok joined Castres last summer. He was recruited as a replacement for New Zealander Chris Masoe and signed a two-year deal with his new employers.
In his two seasons in Belfast, Wannenburg was highly popular among his fellow-players and supporters alike. Indeed, he was last season’s Ulster Rugby Supporters’ Club Award winner.
A week after collecting that trophy he lined out at No 8 in the Heineken Cup final defeat by Leinster at Twickenham in what was his last appearance in an Ulster jersey.
When he was leaving an emotional Wannenburg said: “I have really enjoyed my time here. I have been very happy.
“Belfast always will be a special place for me. This is where we were living when Evette and I got married and this is where our daughter, Isabelle, was born.
“Some day I hope to bring my little girl back here to show her where she was born.”
Tellingly he added: “Some day, too, I would love to come back and play at Ravenhill again.”
Little did he know just how quickly that would come to pass.
Ulster prop John Afoa smiled at the prospect of facing his former comrade.
“Pedrie’s involvement just adds a little more spice to the game. Coming back to face your old team is something most players enjoy,” the Kiwi tight-head said.
Ulster coach Mark Anscombe — who arrived after Wannenburg’s departure for Stade Pierre Antoine — said: “He didn’t play at the weekend (against Biarritz) but the guys here obviously know him well and are very aware of him. I’m sure he’ll want to play.”
When it was suggested that Wannenburg is in a good position to give Castres coaches Laurent Travers and Laurent Labit a highly-informed assessment of his former colleagues’ strengths and weaknesses, Anscombe replied: “Maybe we’re doing a few things differently from when he was here, so he won’t know what we’re up to.”