Ulster Rugby captain Johann Muller: I'm really going to miss Ravenhill
Published 02/05/2014 | 08:30
Ulster captain Johann Muller is expecting tonight's crucial inter-pro against Leinster to be hard - and not just because of the quality of the opposition.
Barring some highly improbable mathematical twists, this is going to be his final match at Ravenhill. The 34-year-old South African, who has been such a crowd favourite in his four seasons with Ulster, is retiring at the end of the season.
Sitting in the sunshine in the new main grandstand, he mused: "A couple of months ago I thought I had plenty of time left and now all of a sudden the big day has arrived.
"My two little ones – Anja and Juienn – are running out with me so I think it's going to be a really, really emotional time for me.
"But I'll think about that after the game. We've got to make sure that we put all of those emotions aside and that we play to our ability. Then we can have a laugh and a beer afterwards to reflect on my wonderful time at Ravenhill."
That's typical Muller – fully focused with everything in the right order. The priority now is to secure a place in the play-offs and hopefully win the PRO12.
In his time here, Ulster have reached four successive Heineken Cup quarter-finals. Two years ago, they reached the final in which they lost to Leinster.
In his first season, 2010-11, they lost a PRO12 play-off semi-final. Against Leinster. Last season, they were beaten in the final of the same competition. By Leinster.
But losing to Leinster tonight isn't an option.
"If we lose, that's basically us for the season," the 6ft 7in giant said.
"So it all comes down to this – it's another final, it's the opening of a new stadium with a capacity crowd so let's get honest, it doesn't get any bigger than this."
When he talks about rugby, he exudes excitement.
"It doesn't matter if it's your last game or your first game, your last season or your first season, you always want to go out there, you always want to win and you always want to win a trophy," he said.
"Sometimes it comes true and sometimes it doesn't. But I can promise you one thing; on Friday night we'll have 23 players who will leave this field having given absolutely everything to make that a reality and that's all you can ask for.
"We've got a couple of boys back from injury and training has gone really well so it's all about putting in a really good performance now and making sure we get the 'W'."
Muller holds Leinster in the highest regard. Asked how Ulster might go about trying to fell them this time, he replied: "We've got to play to our ability, it's as easy as that. If we play anything less than our ability then we won't win because they're a world-class team.
"They've won trophies every single year for the past five, six, seven years, they've got plenty of internationals in their team and they've obviously got quite a good record at Ravenhill, so nothing less than perfect for us will do."
If Ulster are to upstage the holders tonight, they will have to perform a lot better than has been the case of late. Defeats in three of their last four matches have seen them bow out of the Heineken Cup and slip off the pace in the PRO12 race. But Muller (pictured) believes last week's breather came at the right time.
"We would love to have played but obviously that wasn't meant to be and we had a bit of time away from the game which I think is really important," he said.
"But we also had a bit of time together – a couple of really good training sessions and a bit of fun together and I think that's a massive part of this game.
"We went down to Carton House for a couple of days as a team – a couple of really good training sessions, a bit of golf, a bit of sun, so that was a great exercise for all of us.
"You've got to be able to step away every now and then and have a bit of a mental break because at this time of the season, physically, you get tested big time because there's a lot of bumps and bruises and a lot of sore bodies.
"But mentally, I truly believe, is the biggest challenge and just getting away last week to refresh a bit I think has done wonders for us."
Tonight he makes his 83rd appearance for his adopted province. Almost certainly it will be his last at Ravenhill as a player. But he has vowed to return.
"Without a doubt. You will see me every single year, more than once. I'll definitely come back and sit in the stand and be a supporter of this great club and the people. I'm really looking forward to that – I promise you that I will be back every single year."
Hopefully for a final or two?
"Not only for finals! The finals will be my second visit. I'll definitely come over at Christmas for a bit and then when hopefully the sun comes out in May I'll come and watch some finals."