Muller promises Ulster will get setpieces right
Good rugby setpieces don’t just happen. There are no shortcuts; it takes time and work to perfect them.
And with Aironi, Ulster’s Magners League opponents on Saturday night, including vastly experienced Italian lock Marco Bortolami, Brian McLaughlin’s men have worked hard this week on their line-out.
With hooker Rory Best absent, the throwing duties pass to Nigel Brady whose targets will include big South African lock, Johann Muller.
He knows better than most that setpieces require graft, determination and patience.
And with a CV reading 23 Springbok caps — and captaincy of the team — plus 12 years with the Natal Sharks, he has done his share of such sessions.
So while one or two of Ulster’s line-outs last weekend against Ospreys were awry, the big man isn’t losing any sleep.
“It doesn’t become a good line-out overnight. It takes time.
“You’ve got to get to know each other. But we’re getting there.
“We always knew it was going to be tough in the first couple but we’re spending a lot of time on it and as the competition (the Magners League) goes on and on we’ll get better and better.
“By midway we’ll probably be one of the best line-out sides in it,” he said.
“We’re still getting used to each other but we’re on the right track and we’ll get there very soon, I promise you that.”
With Ireland’s pre-World Cup player management programme restricting the availability of Irish players, Muller knows he is going to be playing a lot of rugby in the Ulster shirt this season.
The prospect does not daunt him in the least.
“I’m 30 now so it’s the training that gets to me, not the playing!” he smiles.
“No, I love playing and just being out there. I hate being subbed — I want to play 80 minutes every week.
“I’m feeling great and the body is feeling great, too.
“Obviously, with the injury, I’ve been off for quite a while so I’m nice and fresh.”
Speaking for his fellow-Springboks he added: “There is extra responsibility on our shoulders (because of the missing irish players), but that’s great.
“It’s just important that we pass on what we know to the others so they become better players.”
With 16st 9lb of prime South African beef packed onto his imposing 6’7” frame he is fully-equipped for the physical demands of rugby in the northern hemisphere.
“People always say that the northern hemisphere is behind the southern hemisphere but physically I don’t believe that.
“Maybe it’s slower, yes, but that’s down to conditions more than anything else.
“And I can tell you, when I woke up on Saturday morning (after the Ospreys game) I knew I’d been in a battle.
“If you can front up every week physically, as a pack of forwards and as a team, that’s half of the battle won.
“Then it’s about just keeping going and putting in the effort until you get a result in the end.”
Highlighting the part played by the weather in determining the style of play he added: “Conditions aren’t always in favour of exciting, running rugby.
“Sometimes you just have to grind it out as a pack of forwards and rely on your nine and 10,” he admitted.
Ten-man rugby, in other words?
But when it is dry and the wind is not a factor, then it is time to move the ball and put it through hands.
“The weather on Friday night meant we were able to show a bit of it (running rugby) once or twice, though obviously not enough.
“We’re still 60 per cent off where we can be, but these are early days and it’s a long competition.
“It’s exactly the same as the line-out.
“You’ve got to get to know each other and play together. The more you do that, the better you become.”