Captain Johann Muller has issued a two-part warning to Ulster supporters ahead of Saturday night’s RaboDirect PRO12 date with defending champions Ospreys (6.30pm).
Don’t expect miracles from back-in-the-squad Irish internationals Stephen Ferris and Andrew Trimble, but do expect Ospreys to come out breathing fire in light of their 12-6 defeat by Benetton Treviso last Friday.
The Swansea-based Welshmen also lost their two pre-season friendlies against Clermont (49-25) and Bath (21-10).
So even with Ferris and Trimble in the panel for the first time this term — both are likely to play some part, probably from the bench — Muller is urging his team-mates to be wary.
“Obviously it’s great to have those guys back, but they haven’t played any rugby for quite a while so it’s not going to be easy for them just to step straight back into it,” was Muller’s view of having the Irish international pair in the mix.
“As a squad and as a team, though, we’re really excited to have them back. And as well as bringing quality and experience, they are hungry to play again.
“Stevie hasn’t played since the (Heineken Cup) final (May 19) and Trimby last played when he went down to New Zealand with Ireland (in June).
“I can imagine that they will be really excited to be back on the park, but it takes time to get back to top form,” he warned.
Asked how long it might take international-class players like Ferris and Trimble to go from nought to 60, Muller |(pictured) replied: “I think it varies from person to person. If I take myself, I need to play at least three games before feeling that I’m where I want to be.
“I’m not talking about three 80 minutes, I’m talking about three nice hit-outs — 40 minutes, 60 minutes of just being out there.
“Some guys are just sharp from the word go but others take a little bit longer — four, five, six games — to get really back into it.
“As I say, it all depends on the individual, but given the quality of players like Stevie and Trimby it shouldn’t take them very long to get back.”
Even so, he called on Ulster’s supporters not to be unrealistic in their expectations of the pair and asked them to be mindful of the champions’ pedigree.
The skipper also was upbeat about the prospects of fly-half Paddy Jackson and No 8 Nicky Williams being available.
Jackson limped off with a calf injury after just 10 minutes of |last |||||Friday night’s win over Glasgow, while Williams suffered a dead leg. They were the most serious concerns on a night of bumps and bruises.
“They’re all being looked after quite well by the medical staff and we’re all really positive that all of them will be available for the weekend and ready to go,” Muller confirmed.
Reminding supporters that the Ospreys have home advantage and will be smarting after a hat-trick of defeats, making them mad keen to kick-start their season, Muller pointed out: “You can’t get a tougher second game up. Having lost last weekend against Treviso they are going to come out fired up and determined to play really well.
“They’re the champions and there’s a reason for that; they are a quality side, they have a quality squad. On their day they are good enough to beat anybody.
“We’re playing them in their backyard so obviously it’s a massive challenge for us. But we’re up for it; we’re excited to be playing them and provided we stick to our structures and play the way we want to there is no reason why we can’t beat them.”
If they are to do that, Ulster must buck convention. They last won in Swansea in 2009.
“We’ve had a decent start and against Glasgow we got out of it what we wanted which was a win, first up. We always seem to struggle against them so it was good to have won that one,” said Muller. “But we know we need to improve on our performance and we’ve been working hard on that.”
Ospreys' Welsh international lock Ian Evans will appear before the RaboDirect PRO12 Disciplinary Committee tomorrow. The Edinburgh hearing will adjudicate on Evans who was given a red card by Irish referee John Lacey after receiving two yellow cards in last Friday’s match against Benetton Treviso.