Belfast Telegraph

Magners League: Ulster can handle the play-off heat

By Michael Sadlier

The talk quickly turns to handling the pressure of needing to win the last two games to make the Magners League play-offs and Pedrie Wannenburg delivers his answer with all the directness usually reserved for his on-field performances.

“At the end of the day if you want to win a Magners League it all comes down to pressure,” the 30-year-old South African says.

“So how are we going to attack this pressure and deal with Friday night?

“That’s going to be the main goal for us.

“Oh it’s going to be tough, any game is tough and anything can happen on the day,” he adds before parking the subject in a rather unexpected way.

“So, the tougher it is, the nicer it is,” Wannenburg adds with a smile and you don’t doubt his sincerity as he ponders tomorrow night's game against Connacht.

Like any quality back rower he plays on the edge which sometimes can see him stray beyond legality such as on last Saturday at the RDS when the game was five minutes away from half time.

Ulster had already been defensively torched by that point thanks to three early Leinster tries, and Jonathan Sexton’s 32nd minute penalty had put the home side 20-9 up and seemingly home and hosed.

With the break now in sight, and Brian McLaughlin (pictured) no doubt ready to say a few choice words to his team, it seemed that things could hardly get any worse for Ulster — and then, of course, they did.

Luke Fitzgerald found space and kicked ahead only for Wannenburg to tackle him from behind without the ball, preventing the Leinster winger from pursuing his chip ahead.

It was a straight yellow card, no argument, and the 20-times capped Springbok made his way off the pitch for his 10 minutes in the bin.

While Wannenburg watched, Leinster piled on another two tries, one either side of half time, to score a grand total of 14 points while he was off the field.

It looked like a clear case of game over, but when he returned there was some consolation as Ulster’s fightback began with his try; a typical piece of powerful and aggressive ball-carrying seeing him over the line from close in.

Indeed, as things turned out, the visitors ended up just one point shy of what would have been an enormously valuable bonus point.

Unsurprisingly he doesn’t really dwell on the binning and the ‘what if’ scenario had Ulster kept 15 men on the field throughout the game.

“The bin was just part of the game,” he says before grasping some positives from the Dublin experience. “I think it (the game) was tough on us but I think we played quite well in the last 35 minutes.

“We said ‘we can beat these guys’ and we grew in confidence in those last 35 minutes, but we mustn’t look back and we have to look at Friday and say ‘we must just do better’.” You sense that a fair portion of this week has been spent on dissecting the high error rate that has crept into Ulster’s play.

“Yes, it happened against Northampton in the first 15 minutes as well so I think it’s just silly mistakes that we make and it’s really small stuff that we can cancel out,” Wannenburg says, offering his assessment of how Ulster have cheaply shipped points at the start of their last two outings.

Since arriving at the start of the season former Blue Bulls’ player Wannenburg has been a virtual ever-present in Ulster’s back row with his strength and physicality seemingly being even more valuable to Ulster’s cause with Stephen Ferris missing so much of the campaign.

His experience along with that of fellow countrymen Johann Muller and Ruan Pienaar, who are also in their first season, has brought a new, though albeit costly, vitality to the team which has in turn assisted in adding value to leadership within the squad.

Wannenburg added: “It’s in our own hands and we must focus on what we want to do and not on anything else.

“The players know that we need to get a bonus point out of this game and the next game as well and then hopefully we’ll make the top four.” He added: “We mustn’t be negative at the moment.

“I think we’ve just got to keep it simple and try to play our game and concentrate on that and then that will work for us at this crucial stage.”

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