Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 25 December 2014

Muller’s move to Ulster made easy by gent Humphreys

New signing Johann Muller is settling in at Ravenhill and can't wait for the new season to kick off
New signing Johann Muller is settling in at Ravenhill and can't wait for the new season to kick off

It did not require any hard sell tactics by David Humphreys to persuade giant Springbok lock Johann Muller — 6ft 7in and a healthy 16st 9lb — to join Ulster.

What counted for far more than any words was the manner in which the Ulster Operations Director presented the case.

When the pair met in South Africa just before Christmas, the 23-times-capped former Boks captain and World Cup winner was sold on the idea more or less immediately. What he heard ticked all of his professional and personal boxes.

“David came to see me during our pre-season and I made my decision two or three days later. It didn’t take long for me to make up my mind. I was convinced that I wanted to come,” he said.

Asked what had most persuaded him to swap Durban for Belfast he added: “When I met David I saw a guy who was genuine — what you see is what you get which means I have a lot of respect for him. The way he handled the whole thing impressed me.

“Normally I look at people’s character and make decisions based on what I see. What I saw in him played a big part in pulling me towards this place.

“I wanted a challenge — most rugby players love a challenge — and to experience something different. And when the Sharks made John Smit their captain that helped me make my decision, too. It was easier to leave as a player rather than as captain.”

He, his wife Mariska and their 20-month-old daughter Anja are settling into their home close to Ravenhill where Muller will be hoping to shine on Friday nights when the season gets under way.

Unlike a number of Ulster’s big name players, who have yet to report for pre-season training, already he is at work. Those who will be reporting to Newforge later include his old friend, BJ Botha.

He is looking forward to playing in the same pack as the Ulster tight-head prop when the new campaign kicks off.

Currently, however, Botha is in New Zealand with South Africa for the Tri-Nations tournament.

He is on the bench for this weekend’s Wellington test against the All Blacks, who trounced the Boks 32-12 last Saturday in Auckland, as is Ruan Pienaar who, like Muller, has just joined Ulster from Sharks.

“I was on the phone to them yesterday and they’re both looking forward to joining up with the squad,” he said.

His last Springboks outing was against the 2009 Lions. Does he retain international ambitions?

“I’ll never say no if my country calls me,” said Muller who turned 30 on June 1.

For now, however, his focus is on being fully fit for the start of the season. At the moment he is unable to engage in contact, having had plates inserted after breaking an arm. That injury meant he was unable to play in the Sharks’ final matches of the season.

He is looking forward rather than back, however.

“My hope is that as a result of my experience and knowledge of the game after 12 years with Sharks I can help Ulster,” he said.

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