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Wannenburg eager to carry the ball and Ulster through the pool

By Michael Sadlier

The ball was moving through hands and when Pedrie Wannenburg got it he delivered the scoring pass to Stephen Ferris who did the needful after steaming up outside him on the left wing.

For Wannenburg there was a certain sense of redemption surrounding Ulster’s first try against Aironi last Friday after what had transpired the week before, against the Scarlets, when he had found himself carrying the ball forward with Ferris again outside him, this time on the right wing, and eagerly waiting to do damage from the pass.

Back then, though, Ulster were attempting to run their way out of their own ‘22’ in the game’s opening exchanges and when Wannenburg released the ball to Ferris it was gratefully intercepted by Sean Lamont for the Scarlets’ winger to open the scoring for the visitors.

It was one of those horrible moments and there was nowhere the South African back rower could hide. He can just about smile about it now but then it helps that Ulster actually went on to beat the Scarlets and end their alarming run of defeats.

“It’s one of those things,” Wannenburg says. “It was tough but it’s all part of the game. If I had kept the ball we could have scored, but then I didn’t and they scored.

“Luckily the guys kept their heads and we, including myself, reacted by just working harder.”

And he certainly works. The 30-year-old has again been a mainstay of Brian McLaughlin’s side this season and has started in all 13 of Ulster’s competitive games, and finished virtually each one, with the last six outings see

ing the ex-Springbok move off the flank — from where he scored two tries in the defeat to Treviso — to pack down at number eight.

His durability and strength in contact are clearly considerable assets and with his two-year contract up at the end of the season, Wannenburg has certainly shown his worth in terms of time on the pitch, though it is unclear if he will be extending his time at Ravenhill.

For the moment, his only focus is on getting to grips with Aironi again on Saturday in the final instalment of their Heineken Cup double-header and hopefully continuing Ulster’s progress in Pool Four.

“Yeah it sure was a physical game,” he admits with more than a hint of a black eye, adding credibility to his description of last week’s thumping 31-10 win.

“There may be one of two guys who are maybe not so good (this week) but, otherwise, we’re preparing well for the weekend.”

Ulster currently sit second in the group — a point shy of leaders Clermont who are at Leicester on Saturday — and another bonus point win looks essential to their cause before the final two pool games in January when first the Tigers come to Ravenhill followed by that nasty-looking trip to Stade Marcel Michelin.

The pressure on keeping their European campaign alive is certainly full-on and Wannenburg can only reiterate the all too obvious situation and the difficulty of getting what you want when playing Aironi in their own backyard, even though Saturday’s game is in Monza rather than the usual Stadio Luigi Zaffanella.

“Yes, there’s going to be a lot of pressure on us. But we must focus and we know what we have to do out there and the fact that we need five points. We are pleased with where we are in the Heineken Cup at the moment as it’s still in our hands,” he adds.

Wannenburg wants to go to Italy and make a statement for both the team and himself by seeing more of the ball.

“I want to try to ball-carry a bit more. Stevie (Ferris) is the main ball-carrier at the moment and I’m doing more rucking, but I’m still working really hard to be in position to ball-carry.”

But, fundamentally, it’s about getting the result.”

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