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Ulster’s Boks hope for action in Tri-Nations

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Test call: Johann Muller is hoping to shake off an injury

Test call: Johann Muller is hoping to shake off an injury

Darren Kidd

Test call: Johann Muller is hoping to shake off an injury

Ulster stars Ruan Pienaar and Johann Muller seem on course to wear the Springbok jersey again after having been named in South Africa’s Tri-Nations squad for their away games against Australia and New Zealand later this month.

Both Ravenhill favourites, who along with Munster-bound BJ Botha have been named in South Africa’s preliminary World Cup squad, could now play leading roles in the early part of the Tri-Nations — though Muller’s participation may still be in doubt as he is reported to be having trouble shaking off a hamstring problem — and also lay down a marker for selection in the final squad for this autumn’s World Cup.

Should they both ultimately make the World Cup, which in Pienaar’s case looks certain, then there will be a knock-on effect for Ulster as neither player is likely to be seeing much action with Brian McLaughlin’s squad this side of Christmas.

Pienaar, who has won 47 Springbok caps and was on the bench when the lifted the World Cup four years ago, last played for his country in November, while Muller’s 23rd test — he also sat on the bench for the Paris final — was back in 2009 when he turned out against the British and Irish Lions in the third test.

However, both Pienaar and Muller are part of a severely depleted Springboks squad for the forthcoming Tri-Nations with a staggering 21 of their frontline players having been declared injured and unavailable for the away leg of the competition which opens against Australia on July 23 with the side then travelling to Wellington a week later to take on the All Blacks.

Key players including Victor Matfield, Bryan Habana, Bakkies Botha, Schalk Burger, Fourie du Preez, Bismarck du Plessis and Juan Smith have all been withdrawn from the Tri-Nations travelling squad.

Elsewhere, Ulster-bound prop John Afoa has been named in the All Blacks squad for their Tri-Nations campaign, and is also expected to be at the World Cup, though there is better news for Ravenhill regarding their other Kiwi signing Jared Payne.

The Auckland Blues utility back — who along with team-mate Afoa lost out in the Super 15 semi-finals to eventual winners Queensland Reds — is not involved with the All Blacks and is expected to join up with Ulster at the beginning of September.

Though it is unclear how much involvement he may have with club Northland in the forthcoming domestic ITM Cup, it is hoped that he will be hooking up with his new team-mates shortly after Ulster’s season opens.

As he begins to focus on the next phase in his career, Payne has set out his aims for the future at Ravenhill.

“My immediate goals at Ulster will just be to become comfortable in a new environment and understand the way they play the game, then how I can fit into that,” the 25-year-old said.

“I also need to get used to the cold, hopefully quickly,” he added, though New Zealand’s winters should make acclimatising somewhat less problematic.

Payne, who is on a three-year deal at Ulster and has not been capped at full international level for New Zealand, has also been rumoured to be possibly interested in declaring for Ireland, though he has dismissed such notions as premature.

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“It would take me three years to qualify and that’s far too far away for me to be worrying about. I'll cross that bridge if it comes up,” he said.


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