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Herbst is relishing fierce battle for a starting jersey

By Jonathan Bradley

Contract season is well and truly upon us with Wiehahn Herbst joining the list of Ulster players to recently ink a new deal at Kingspan Stadium. The South African prop put pen to paper on a two-year extension that will keep him in Belfast until the summer of 2019.

Having recently returned from a lengthy spell on the sidelines - a foot problem followed by a groin injury kept him out of the game for 10 months - the tighthead is looking forward to battling Rodney Ah You for Ulster's No.3 jersey.

"I truly believe that the squad is really starting to develop, with improving depth across most positions," he said.

"I'm looking forward to competing with the guys for the starting No.3 jersey over the next few years."

The 28-year-old admitted that it was a relief for him and his young family to have his future sorted out.

"This deal is a great boost for myself and my family," he added.

"My wife and I are well settled here in Belfast and our son was born here, so it is a special place for us."

Herbst arrived in Belfast in the summer of 2014, one of the last signings made by then Director of Rugby David Humphreys before the European Cup winner departed for Gloucester.

He enjoyed a strong first season with the province and quickly became popular with fans before an injury-ravaged campaign second time round.

He has made 42 appearances for the side and, with Ah You signing from Connacht in the summer and currently sidelined Academy product Ross Kane having impressed when given the chance, it will be interesting to see how minutes are divided when all three are fit.

Should he wrest control of the starting spot back, Herbst may even still harbour international ambitions given he will qualify for Ireland on residency during the pre-season.

Director of Rugby Les Kiss is thrilled that the province have been able to keep Herbst in Belfast.

"Wiehahn is a great bloke and I'm delighted that he's agreed to stay on with us for another couple of years," the Australian said.

"The market is becoming increasingly competitive and the retention of our top players is a major focus for Bryn Cunningham (Operations Director) and myself.

"Wiehahn is still relatively young for a prop and we fully expect that his best years are still ahead of him. I have no doubt that he will continue to be an important player for us."

Kiss added that Herbst's dedication to his craft means he can still grow as a player at 28-years-old having already established himself as a more than capable scrummager.

"He is very powerful in the set-piece and this has been a huge weapon for us since his arrival," he said.

"His work ethic is first class and he is committed to developing his game, while also ensuring that others are too."

While tighthead was a real problem position earlier in the season when front-liners were injured, Kiss is looking forward to a selection dilemma now that Herbst has been tied down.

"With Rodney (Ah You) also competing for a starting berth, and with Academy prop Ross Kane developing nicely, we are starting to look pretty well stocked at tighthead. We also have Ricky Lutton and Jonny Simpson on the books and it is vital for us to have that strength in depth," he added.

The deal for Herbst follows on from Andy Warwick, Pete Browne and Sean Reidy, who have all inked extensions since the season began.

Between Ulster and the IRFU, there is still plenty of work to be done however with co-captain Andrew Trimble, Paddy Jackson, Chris Henry and Paul Marshall among players whose current deals will end this summer.

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