Muller: Heineken Cup reminds me of ‘Super 14’
Former Springboks captain Johann Muller used to watch television coverage of the Heineken Cup in the comfort of his South African home.
He liked what he saw. Indeed, the prospect of playing in the northern hemisphere’s premier club competition played no small part in tempting him to cross the equator and enlist for Ulster.
He makes his debut in the tournament tomorrow night and he admits that the prospect excites him enormously.
Ulster host Italian club Aironi — like Muller, making their debut in the Heineken Cup — and although the 6ft 7ins lock faced the Italians in the Magners League at Stadio Luigi Zaffanella as recently as September 11, he knows this meeting is going to be much more intense.
Does the prospect intimidate him? Quite the opposite; he can’t wait to get started.
“I’ve followed it (the Heineken Cup) for the past five or six years from South Africa and it’s a very exciting competition.
“It’s four or five different cultures and countries playing against each other so it’s a wonderful tournament with great history and tradition attached to it.
“That’s why you always look forward to playing in a competition like this. Hopefully we can do very well in it,” the gentle giant says.
“I know that it’s going to be a different intensity to what we have seen so far, but I’m ready for that.
“When I was playing back home in South Africa we had the same thing — the Super 14 was played at much greater intensity than the Currie Cup. I see the same thing here, with the Magners League being the Currie Cup and the Heineken Cup the Super 14.
“When it’s time to step up you’ve got to lift your performance in order to cope with the increased physicality and speed of the game at that higher level.”
And his hope is that the onset of the Heineken Cup will kick-start Ulster.
“We’ve been winning but we haven’t been playing particularly well, so I hope this will be a turning point for us. Hopefully we can hit some form and start playing some really good rugby,” he says.
The fact that Ulster have not been serving up flowing football does not concern him, however.
“We’re a team getting used to playing together. There’s five or six new guys in there and it takes time to gel.
“When I got here I said that the line-out, for example, would require time and work. We still aren’t quite hitting that just right even now, seven or eight weeks on.
“It’s exactly the same with the team. But the more we play together, the better we will become. The time will come.”
And Muller is urging those in the home crowd to play their part tomorrow night.
“The Heineken Cup is a big occasion for everyone and just as I hope the supporters will see a big difference in the level of our performance, so I think we will see a difference in the intensity of the support.
“I’m really looking forward to playing at Ravenhill in a great atmosphere,” he adds.