Wannenburg: it’ll be a tearful farewell
Pedrie Wannenburg says he’s bracing himself for an emotional farewell in an Ulster jersey.
The South African forward is leaving the province at the end of the season to join Castres but he’s certainly going out with a bang.
Wannenburg scored the crucial try in the 22-19 Heineken Cup semi-final win over Edinburgh — sparking scenes of wild celebration at the Aviva Stadium.
Now Ulster fans are counting down the seconds to the all-Irish decider against Leinster at Twickenham on May 19.
The 31-year-old is now desperate to finish the job for two very special reasons.
He wants to reward departing coach Brian McLaughlin for his contribution to the Ravenhill cause — and he hopes to leave the Ulster stage a European champion.
“All of the players know it is Brian’s final game, such a passionate coach but we have to concentrate on matters on the pitch too,” said Wannenburg.
“I’ll be sad to go. It’ll be a sad moment and there will be tears in my eyes but that’s life and the effect sport has on you. Hopefully I can get my hands on the Heineken Cup before I leave.
“The performance was not a perfect one as we made mistakes but there’s plenty of room for improvement. We were up for the game and it was great to beat an Edinburgh who were also determined to make the final.
“I was delighted to score the try but I was in the right place. I was fortunate to be at the back of the scrum, pick up the ball and score.
“(Ruan) Pienaar played brilliantly and when he’s playing well we have every chance. But others like Rory Best were superb.
“We make our own luck. The harder you train the luckier you get and we certainly work hard.”
Wannenburg has always felt at home in Ulster and he’s determined to leave the fans who adore him with cherished memories of a day out at Twickenham.
“The South Africans have loved coming here, it’s a beautiful place and the people have certainly dragged us here,” he added.
“Our faith is important too. It is coming through for us at the moment as we believe in something bigger than us. What we have achieved with Ulster is special and hopefully we can finish the job.”
Another one of Ulster’s heroes Craig Gilroy really can’t remember anything about Ulster’s 1999 European Cup triumph. The Ulster wing was seven years old. But with this side having just reached their first final since that memorable occasion 13 years ago, he is very aware of what’s going on now.
An Irish inter-pro to decide who goes home with the title of best club side in the northern hemisphere? It really does not get any more tasty than that.
Asked if he had wanted Leinster, the champions now aiming for an unprecedented third Heineken Cup in four seasons, or French giants Clermont Auvergne, with whom Ulster had already locked horns twice in the group-stage, he admits to having been uncertain one way or the other.
“Obviously they’re two of the best teams in Europe so whichever one we were going to get was going to be a real challenge. You saw the game yourself, nerves were shattered, so it’s Leinster in an All-Ireland final and it should be a great game,” he says.
But, significantly, he admits to believing that it is easier to prepare for a showdown with opponents you know well. And that’s PRO12 fellow-travellers, Leinster.
“I’ve always found that; you know the guys and you can relate to them,” Gilroy explains. “And there’s the fact as well that there will be a lot of competition for an Irish jersey with a lot of the guys, so it should be a cracking match. I think everyone’s looking forward to it.”
Whilst acknowledging that Ulster’s record against Leinster in recent years is pretty unimpressive — one win since May 2004 — the Methodist College past-pupil manages to put a positive spin on that grim statistic.
“If there’s a time to start beating them it would be the Heineken Cup final,” he says.
That said, Gilroy has total respect for those who will provide Ulster’s opposition on May 19, albeit that he uses the adjective ‘arrogant’ in describing them.
“They’re a fantastic side. They’ve got an arrogance about them, but it’s well deserved and it’s sometimes hard to beat that on the pitch. They’re a team who have a lot of faith in themselves — they’re a good side, basically,” is his overview.
“Their whole squad is unbelievable. The back line is incredible; I don’t know what back line they’re going to pick — probably the one from the semi-final — but whoever they pick they’ll have a mobile back line.
“They ship the ball, get into the wide channels. They’re a great rugby side, especially out the backs. They’ve got the guys to do it.”
He agrees with fellow-winger Andrew Trimble (pictured) that Ulster are going to have to put in a perfect performance if they are to pinch their neighbours’ crown.
“Yeah, we’re definitely going to have to put in one of our biggest performances. But then again it’s a final so anything can happen,” he added.