Pedrie Wannenburg is a tough South African. Capped 20 times by the Springboks, the powerful back row forward has played in a number of big matches.
But with his time as an Ulster player now fast approaching its end, he knows Friday night’s Ulster v Leinster RaboDirect PRO12 derby promises to be a pretty special occasion, even for someone like himself who has spent his professional career passing milestones and chalking up honours.
Unless Ulster somehow manage to finish second in the PRO12, it will be his final appearance in what has become his adopted city.
In an ideal world he would stay, but professional sport is a hard industry in which things don’t always work out the way one would choose. Sometimes external factors prove impossible to override; this is one such occasion.
As a result, Wannenburg will be on his way to France when the curtain comes down on Ulster’s 2011/12 campaign. That could be on May 5. Or the weekend of May 11-13. Or May 20. Or maybe May 27? Quite how long it lasts depends on Ulster continuing to win.
Wannenburg is determined not to let any side issues distract him from the job in hand on Friday night. He may be on his way, but Ulster know that
up until the moment he departs he will give nothing less than 100 per cent .
Mindful of Leinster’s record against Ulster — victory in all but one of the adversaries’ past 16 encounters — Wannenburg tells it like it is.
“It’s going to be tough,” he admits. “But when you look at this year, records are there to be broken so hopefully we can do this.
“We did it against Munster, who had never lost at home in the quarter-finals of the Heineken Cup. We went out and we did it and I think we can do it again.
“We’ve got a team where everybody is positive. Friday will be Brian’s (McLaughlin) last home game in charge, too, so everybody wants to finish well for him. But if you focus on things off the pitch rather than on it, that will not be what is best for the team. So it’s about going out and performing rather than worrying about any of this other stuff.”
Such is his single-mindedness that you know there is no chance of other issues being allowed to de-rail him. Not farewell performances. Not Leinster’s record against Ulster. Or thoughts of the following weekend’s Heineken Cup engagement with Edinburgh in Dublin.
Those are all superfluous to his way of thinking as he takes things one step at a time.
“That comes from experience,” he reckons. “You don’t think about the game beyond the next one. As a player, as a person, you want to go out and play your best game and once you start thinking about other things you are distracted.
“If you go out and you aren’t focused, nobody will know you had a bad game because you had other things in your mind — as far as they are concerned it will just be a case of you having played badly.
“Your best preparation for next week is to play well this week. So just focus on the game ahead of you, not the one after it.”
Despite the nature of the challenge — at home to Leinster, away to Munster are Ulster’s final two fixtures in the PRO12 series — Wannenburg believes they are capable of making the play-offs.
“There is still plenty to play for this weekend. We know we have to win, but it’s at Ravenhill, it’s our home ground and we don’t want to throw away our record here. So let’s just focus, go out and play hard and keep our PRO12 hopes alive,” is his view of what is needed.
And the fact that he is on borrowed time?
“Ach,” he says, revealing that some Ulster/Scots has crept in during his two years here. “It’s sad for me leaving, but I will always treasure Ravenhill and I will always love Belfast. It will always be part of my life; I got married here and we had our first kid here.
“I’m really going to miss Belfast a lot and it will be emotional. But afterwards, because I’m not going to think about that yet.
“Luckily I have been part of a building job here so I’m leaving a team that is better than when I joined it. Ulster can look forward to a good future, winning Heineken Cups and PRO12s more often. They just have to believe that,” he insists.