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Wiehahn Herbst hoping famous Ravenhill roar will fire him up for Ulster PRO12 match

Springbok delighted to be back in Belfast

By Jonathan Bradley

When Wiehahn Herbst travelled to Belfast as part of the South Africa squad that would compete at the Under-19 Rugby World Championship back in 2007, he could have had little idea that he was heading towards a place he would one day call home.

However, armed with the little bit of local knowledge picked up during that three week trip, Herbst had little hesitation in agreeing upon a move to these shores when Ulster's then Director of Rugby David Humphreys called last year to gauge his interest in a move to the Pro12.

Addressing the media for the first time since his summer move from the Sharks, the 26-year-old said: "When I was here for the Junior World Cup I didn't think even a little bit that I would ever be playing here again but I am very happy that it has happened."

Indeed Herbst even had the chance to run out at Ravenhill all those years ago as the Baby Boks played three times at the home of Ulster Rugby, including their eventual 31-7 defeat to New Zealand in the final.

Despite that loss, Herbst has fond memories of his initial Northern Irish sojourn even if he jokes that a lot must have changed in the time he has been away.

"Yeah, the stadium was looking a little bit different then," he laughed. "We played here against Ireland and Australia and the final game against New Zealand. I just remember that the pitch was nice and the crowd was especially awesome."

A month on from arriving in Belfast, Herbst and his wife Denise are getting used to their new surroundings.

"It's a good city. My wife and me are getting settled and we've found a house," said the man who hails from Northern Province. "We've been getting to know all the places to go and we've been enjoying every minute of it."

The acclimatisation process has been made all the easier by some fellow compatriots, and former teammates, arriving at the same time.

Franco van der Merwe and Louis Ludik are also new to Ulster and spent 2013 as part of Herbst's Sharks.

On the Springbok presence at the Kingspan, Herbst said: "I was lucky that I know all the South African boys already.

"It's been nice to know someone in Belfast and, because we knew Franco and Louis were coming here, we met up and spoke about it.

"From playing at the Sharks we all knew each other anyway, and then Ruan (Pienaar) too, so we were lucky."

Herbst got his first taste of Northern Hemisphere rugby last weekend during Ulster's Pro12 draw with Scarlets and relished the experience.

"It was awesome to be part of the team to go there and start the season," he said.

"It's always nice to be part of a great team and it was something I really enjoyed. We made some mistakes and almost lost the game but we showed some good character to come back and get a draw."

Even having experienced the environment at the Sharks the physicality of the Pro12 surprised Herbst.

"There are some differences to get used to definitely," he said. "You have to scrum a little bit longer and the lineout drives are a little bit more physical than in South Africa.

"The pitches are a little bit softer but the density of the game is right up there."

He continues his crash course in Pro12 rugby on Friday night when Ulster welcome Zebre and he already knows not to underestimate the Italians.

"I know they are a good team with a big pack of forwards," he said. "They have a lot of Italy internationals in the team so we have to focus on what we need to do better if we are to beat them.

"I'm just looking forward to getting on to the Kingspan Stadium and hearing the crowd singing.

"Hopefully we can reward them with a win."

All those in attendance will be expecting just that.

Name: Wiehahn Jovan Hebst

Age: 26

Position: Tighthead Prop

Born: Klerksdorp, South Africa

Height: 1.8m

Weight: 113kg

Former teams: Natal Sharks, Sharks

Super Rugby Appearances: 38

Representative Honours: South Africa under-19, South Africa under-20

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