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Ulster's Johann Muller is making his presence felt

Super Springbok is key on and off the pitch

The Ulster-Johann Muller relationship is growing ever deeper by the day.

Within the camp, players and management figures alike extol the big former Springboks captain’s ability, attitude and leadership on and off the field.

On the terraces and in the stands, already the supporters know Ulster have signed a player of real quality. They like everything they have seen to date.

But it’s a two-way relationship, with Muller equally delighted by what he has found to be the case since coming to Belfast.

Ulster are stronger, further on and better resourced than he had envisaged.

That being the case he pays glowing tribute to those in charge, expresses his delight in the calibre of the youngsters coming through and tops it all by saying that results and performances are destined to improve.

Everything, he believes, is moving in the right direction, signalling the fulfilment of that prophecy.

Back in July, on the day on which the 30-year-old was unveiled to the media at Ravenhill, he told me: “The amount of talent here is unbelievable.

“With experienced players coming into the team, hopefully we can pass things on to them and they can become world-class players. It will take us time to become a team,” he stressed, before adding a very positive postscript in saying, “But, come the end of this season or the start of next season, we can become a team which can compete at the highest level.”

None of what has seen in the interim has undermined that conviction. In fact, quite the opposite has proven true.

This week, as the countdown to tonight’s match against Aironi gathered pace, he took time out to reflect on his findings to date.

He is impressively demure about the compliments flowing in his direction.

“We — the new guys coming in — are the fortunate ones, myself and Pedrie (Wanneburg) and obviously Ruan (Pienaar) who’s still to come.

“We have stepped into a really good set-up,” Muller enthused this week.

“The coaches have been fantastic, the players have been brilliant in the way they have welcomed us and are working and David Humphreys has been superb in the way he has handled the whole thing.

“We’re settling in really nicely and now it’s important that we just offer as much as we can to help the squad.

“I’m very impressed by what I’ve seen. Obviously back home we’ve got a huge range and huge numbers of rugby players coming through.

“That isn’t the case here, so you’ve got to look after the players you have.

“But the guys here have a huge amount of talent so it’s important that we just guide them through the next couple of years and make sure that when their time comes they’re ready to play in the big league.

“I’ve seen some of the Under 19 and 20 guys and they’re really exciting players, so I think the future for Ulster — and Irish — rugby is very good.”

His is a crucial role — performing on the pitch as well as offering tuition, guidance and a large measure of leadership both on the training ground and in the changing room.

It is a role he is relishing.

“When I came here I didn’t expect things to be as professional as they are,” he said.

“All the steps have been put into place in the last year or so and what is important now is that players like myself and Pedrie — and Ruan when he gets here — pass on what we know to the younger guys as a result of our experience.

“If I can pass on what I know and help create better players I will be a happy man.”

Meanwhile, Ulster will be very happy indeed if they return in the early hours of Sunday morning with four more crucial Magners League points.

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