Wiehahn Herbst may only be only six months into his three year contract at Ulster but the South African has already become a cult hero at the Kingspan Stadium.
Signed from the Sharks as a project player to replace John Afoa Herbst is the rock upon which the Ulster scrum is built and he is settling into life in the northern hemisphere both on and of the pitch.
“I’m part of the family now here at Ulster, the wife has settled in, everything is settled and we have made some good friends and it is going really well for us,” said Herbst.
“It makes it easy to have the Saffers but all the boys are so welcoming so it wouldn’t have made a big different if they weren’t here, for me and my wife there are here and it helped with the settling in.
Herbst first taste of Belfast came in 2007 when he was part of the South African side that finished runners up in the 2007 U21 world cup.
“You can’t even compare it, when we were here there was just the old stand and people standing around the field but I can remember the atmosphere, now it’s a big stadium with more people and the atmosphere is better, every game it’s unbelievable how the crowd just get behind you.”
“My memories were we had a good tournament in 2007, we played in the pool stages Fiji, Australia and Ireland at Ravenhill and we won that, we then played Australia in the semi final and we won them and then we played New Zealand in the semi final but we got a hiding.”
“I never thought I would come back to Belfast again and we I got here again it was nice to see how things had changed and how professional and what a great set up it is now.”
The scrums against Treviso last Friday night were interesting as the Italians refused to hook the ball.
“They were the longest scrums I had in my career, it think the longest one was 27 seconds and some were 22 and 17 seconds, we were prepared for it as a scrum unit we did well because we knew they were going to scrum over the ball and they didn’t want to hook the ball.”
“If you you’re a prop and you don’t like scrummaging you’re not a real prop, I do love the scrummaging but it takes a lot out of the legs and you can do that much around the field.”
Herbst is starting to carry more ball and he feels his game is developing because he has got used to scrummaging in the northern hemisphere.
“With the scrums your legs are tired but I’m trying to get round the field a lot more and try to carry a little bit more if I can, I’m not the tallest guy so I can get nice and low to carry, I’m just happy to do my work.”
“There is a big difference between the scrum here and in South Africa, here there is a huge emphasis on the front row and the locks everyone is scrumming together and especially the tightness of the scrums there is not breaking up, you scrum for long you don’t want to get the ball in and out play.”
“The first thing here is to try and get a penalty or a good scrum so the backline can get on the ball, the scrum is much longer.”
Herbst is looking forward to his first trip to the home of Scottish rugby.
“I’ve never been to Murrayfield, we can expect a big physical encounter, they are a good side and are on form and they have qualified in Europe and they scrum well, we can expect a lot of scrumming and long scrums so it will be a tough game for us.”
“I have a friend there who has told me it’s a big stadium but there are a few coming but you get that in South Africa you have big stadiums and only a few thousand pitch up, it is never going to be like here there is only on place and that is Ulster for the crowd getting behind you.”
Edinburgh could also have a South African tight head start in WP Nel.
“He’s a tight head and I’m a tight head, we have played against each other and he has been doing well at the moment, we looked at some footage of him and we know what we want to try against him and Edinburgh as a unit having been doing well in the scrum.”