Pedrie Wannenburg’s in bullish mood over future with Ulster
Ulster new boy Pedrie Wannenburg is raring to go.
The 6’5” South African — who has 20 Springbok caps — arrived last Thursday and met fellow-Ulster squad members in Portstewart the following day.
The 29-year-old won three Super Rugby titles in 2007, 2009 and 2010 en route to becoming the most capped Blue Bull of all time with 114 Super Rugby appearances to his credit.
Remarkably that Bulls’ record included 100 consecutive matches, a fact which Wannenburg explains by saying: “I’ve been really lucky so far to avoid any serious injuries.”
Ravenhill is not completely new to him, for he was a member of the Blue Bulls team which played a pre-season friendly against Ulster in Belfast in February 2005.
In fact he scored the fourth try in the Bulls’ 24-9 victory on that occasion.
He recalls: “We flew out the Wednesday, arrived Thursday, played Friday and left on Saturday. It was a long way to come for a pre-season friendly!”
That said, Wannenburg concedes that he has a lot to learn about professional rugby in this part of the world.
“I’m not overly familiar with the Magners League — we don’t get many of those matches on television in South Africa.
“But we do see some of the Heineken Cup and it was a big draw to be able to play in that competition,” he reveals.
Quite where he will play remains to be seen for he is able to line out comfortably at lock, flanker or No 8. That versatility is something Ulster coach Brian McLaughlin will welcome.
While he prefers blindside or No 8, “I’ll play where the team needs me,” Wannenburg says.
His decision to move on after 10 years with the Bulls owed something to revelations that he had previously had issues with recreational drugs and alcohol.
Although he had never failed a drugs test, he knew things had to change when that story broke earlier this year.
“When the story came out I spoke to my parents and decided to face the issues, to be honest about it,” he explains.
Supported by his family, he accepted the the need for regular testing. He also has become a Christian and has not looked back since.
Now the hope is that this new-found stability, coupled with the presence of fellow-South Africans at Newforge, will see him shine in Ulster’s white.
“I went to school with Johann (Muller) and we played at the Sharks together for two years before I moved to the Bulls. I have also played with BJ (Botha) and Ruan (Piennar) and against Robbie Diack so I’ll feel at home with a couple other Africaans-speaking people.
“Maybe we’ll have the line-out calls in Africaans!” he suggests.
Um, wonder what Rory Best, Nigel Bradey or Andi Kyriacou would make of that?
“I suppose the fact that Johann and the others were coming here was a factor. It made it easier,” he adds.
As with the signing of Muller, the David Humphreys factor was a plus.
Wannenburg recalls having played against Ulster’s Operations Director when Ireland toured South Africa in 2004.
“It definitely makes a difference when you are talking about a move with someone who has played the game at the same level,” he says.