South African second-row Johann Muller in Ulster switch
By Jim Stokes
Ulster are expected to confirm next week the signing of South African lock Johann Muller on a two-year deal.
The abrasive Muller made the last of his 23 appearances for South Africa against the Lions during the summer.
Muller will link up with his former Springbok and Sharks colleague BJ Botha who has intimated that he will be staying with Ulster.
Ulster are still believed to be in talks with Cardiff's former New Zealand number eight Xavier Rush.
It is well known that Cardiff's impressive back-row forward was in the province a few weeks ago and that talks involving him moving to Ravenhill were well advanced.
However, it is believed that the Welsh club are keen to hang on to the 32-year-old eight-times capped All Black who has been a key player since his arrival five seasons ago.
With Isaac Boss on the move to Leinster at the end of the season, Ulster are also on the search for top-class international scrum-half replacement.
Ulster had preliminary talks with former Scotland captain Mike Blair who is out of contract with Edinburgh, but it appears negotiations have cooled somewhat.
Sale's Welsh international Dwayne Peel was also on Ulster's radar but he is expected to be heading back to the Scarlets.
South African Ruan Pienaar, a Sharks' utility back who has played both half-back positions and worn the number 15 jersey, has also been contacted but his financial demands could rule him out.
However, the signing of the hard-nosed 29-year-old Muller will add a bit of ballast to the Ulster squad.
His athletic ability in the line-out and his sheer physical presence will be seen as a shrewd piece of head-hunting by Ulster's respected Operations Manager David Humphreys who flew out to Durban recently.
Muller is at present part of the Sharks' Super 14 side, although he has conceded the captaincy of the side to Springbok skipper John Smit.
It appears Ulster have agreed the release of Muller from any Currie Cup obligations and he will arrive after the Super 14 campaign at the end of May.
Ulster are also negotiating with the Scottish Rugby Union regarding Simon Danielli's contract which is due to expire at the end of the season.
The in-form left winger is married to a local girl and is very keen to remain in the province and an international contract from the SRU would help ease the financial burden on Ulster.
Ireland trio Rory Best, Tom Court and Paddy Wallace are in still negotiating IRFU contracts, however, it is expected that they will confirm their continued association with Ulster soon.