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We can tame mighty Clermont: Herbst

Ulster v Clermont, European Champions Cup: Kingspan Stadium, Today, 1pm

By Jonathan Bradley

It was the thought of days like today that made Wiehahn Herbst's decision to stay on with Ulster a straight-forward choice.

Having arrived in the summer of 2014, the prop being one of the last of David Humphreys' Ulster signings, Herbst is yet to experience Kingspan Stadium on a knock-out night but the memory of visits from French superpowers such as Toulon and Toulouse have given him a taste.

And it was the desire for more of the same, starting with Clermont this afternoon (1pm-kick-off), that saw him sign on this week for two more years in Belfast.

"It's a great honour, and a privilege and a blessing, to be part of Ulster for another two years and I'm looking forward to winning silverware here at the province," Herbst said after penning an extension that will take him up to the summer of 2019.

"For me personally, I didn't even focus on the contracts, it was all about getting through the injuries and getting back on the field where everything will take care of itself.

"It was just a focus to get back on the field and be part of a team again."

Herbst, who will only be a few months short of his 31st birthday when his new deal runs out, is thrilled to spend the peak years of his career in an Ulster jersey, especially with he and wife Denise having become first time parents to a baby boy since arriving in their new home almost two and a half years ago.

"It was an easy decision," he said.

"We call it home at the moment. We've made it our home and everyone around us has made it feel like home.

"It was a very, very easy decision.

"Of course, I'm 28 now and I'm looking forward to what Ulster will bring in the future... hopefully some silverware soon."

If those ambitions are to have even the slenderest hope of being realised in the Champions Cup this season, Ulster can hardly overstate the quality of the performance needed against the Top 14 league leaders this afternoon.

The two-time runners-up in Europe's top competition - they have lost two of the last four finals, on both occasions at the hands of French rivals Toulon - have been the tournament's form side so far this season.

Like Ulster, they have already faced both Bordeaux-Begles and Exeter but, in stark contrast to today's hosts, their opening two rounds of the pool could not have gone any better, as their status as the only team on maximum points after two rounds undoubtedly shows.

With an all-international back-line to contend with, there is plenty to concern Ulster behind the pack, but it is understandably the battle at the coalface which is of most interest to tight-head Herbst.

With the 36-times capped, diminutive French loose-head Thomas Domingo not in the Clermont line-up, Herbst's own tete-a-tete will come with the less familiar figure of Raphaël Chaume.

The 31-year-old has been with Clermont since 2008 - and virtually the entirety of his professional career - and will provide a similar physical challenge.

Marginally taller than Herbst, Ulster's South African still certainly boasts the edge when it comes to bulk, tipping the scales at 15 kilograms heavier than his counterpart.

"They're a formidable side, they have a lot of internationals in their squad and are top of the Top 14 at the moment," Herbst said of the sizeable challenge that awaits.

"We have a lot of respect for their forward pack but we know what we have to do from our side and we're looking forward (to it).

"They have a big pack, so for us we have to stick together and do our best at what we have to do and the rest will take care of itself.

"Luckily for me I'm not the tallest tight-head so it doesn't make a difference for me.

"It's for me to focus on myself and for us scrummaging as a unit in everything we do."

Rather than look too much at what the visitors - who even in their domestic league have been unpredictable on the road, losing three times - will offer, Herbst is more concerned with his own side.

As last season's meetings with Toulouse prove, looking too much at the names on the opposition team-sheet can be something of a fruitless endeavour.

"It'll still be tough but we'll have to focus on ourselves," said Herbst.

"I was fortunate enough to be part of our games last season against Toulouse but, not just because they're a French team, every championship game here at the Kingspan is a great opportunity for us as a team, and for the fans, to give a big performance.

"The PRO12 is also a really tough competition with lots of international players so we always focus more on ourselves and what we can improve on each game.

"Clermont have a good scrum, they've got a lot of depth in the squad, so we have to focus on what we can do."

Similarly sure of the result that is needed, Herbst believes that nothing less than a win will do if Ulster are to return to the quarter-finals for the first time since a 2014 home defeat to Saracens.

"This is a must win for us if we want to stay alive in the Champions Cup," he said.

"We'll take it game by game now.

"For us at the moment every game is a big game. We just prepare to be the best on the weekend, it doesn't really make a difference who we play.

"We do have a lot of respect for Clermont, we know they will bring a lot of great individuals so we will just do our best and prepare for what we know they'll bring."

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