Springbok Muller can’t wait to get started with Ulster
Having had just 38 minutes of competitive action in the past five months it is not surprising that Johann Muller is raring to go.
The South African giant — six feet seven inches tall — last wore an Ulster shirt on May 13 when Leinster beat the visitors 18-3 in the Magners League play-off semi-final at the RDS.
But on Saturday afternoon the Springbok lock returns to lead Ulster against the Scarlets in Llanelli.
He can’t wait to get started. Nor, he insists, can the other five players who, having returned to the fold following their World Cup exertions on behalf of their countries, have been named in the 32-man squad for this weekend’s trip to Parc y Scarlets.
They are fellow-Bok Ruan Pienaar, Scotland’s Simon Danielli and Irish trio Tom Court, Andrew Trimble and Paddy Wallace.
As per the IRFU’s Player Management Programme, Rory Best and Stephen Ferris will not be deployed until the following weekend’s Ravenhill inter-pro with Connacht, the final RaboDirect Pro12 outing before squaring up to ASM Clermont Auvergne in the Heineken Cup on November 12.
Looking ahead to Saturday’s clash with Scarlets, Muller said: “It’s really exciting and I’m really keen to play again.”
He kept in regular contact with Ulster from South Africa’s World Cup camp in New Zealand.
Muller revealed: “I was on the phone every Friday night, or Saturday, whenever the guys played.
“I obviously didn’t bother the big man (coach Brian McLaughlin) but David Humphreys kept me up to date with the score every 10 minutes.
“Myself and Ruan — and the Irish guys as well — were really interested in what was happening over here.
“I think everybody is happy to be back and to be part of it again. None of us have played for Ulster this season so it’s a new start for us as well and we’re all really looking forward to it.”
With a hat-trick of Pro12 victories having given way to three successive defeats, Muller was asked about the spirit in the camp to which he and the other World Cup absentees had returned.
His upbeat response to the question was: “Good. Ulster started off really well and then let it slip a bit in the last three games.
“Obviously the one that’s going to be hurting us is the home loss (to Benetton Treviso) so I think the break came at a really good time.
“All the boys had a week away to clear their minds a bit and get their bodies nice and fresh again. The last two weeks of training has been really, really good and everybody is excited.”
Meanwhile McLaughlin was candid in his assessment of the challenge Scarlets are likely to present to an Ulster side in need of a win after that run of setbacks.
Welsh rugby is buoyant as a result of the country’s fourth-place finish in the World Cup.
“Even when we went across there to play at the Ospreys and the Dragons there was a great buzz about the way Wales were doing in the World Cup and certainly when those Welsh players come back into those sides they will be exceptionally hard to beat.
“They will certainly be mounting a very strong challenge in the Pro12,” he admitted.
But the coach also described the return of Ulster’s players from the World Cup as “very exciting”, adding: “It has given the guys who were here, and who have worked so hard, another lift.”