Van der Merwe off to Ulster
Johannesburg - Lions and Springbok lock Franco van der Merwe has become the latest player to head abroad after he signed a contract with Irish province Ulster for next season.
According to the supersport.com website
, Van der Merwe joins up with the Irish team, replacing Ulster’s long-serving captain, and another former Springbok, Johann Muller, who recently announced his retirement from the game.
Van der Merwe is currently injured and not playing, ruled out for six months after sustaining an ankle injury, but has still been helping out the Lions in their training sessions.
He told his teammates of his departure as the team met for the last time before heading overseas for their four-week Vodacom Super Rugby tour, starting with their match against the Chiefs next Saturday. The Lions will depart on Friday for New Zealand.
Van der Merwe has long been a stalwart of Lions Rugby, and played his only test for the Springboks at Ellis Park last year while he has exactly 100 Currie Cup games under his belt and 97 Vodacom Super Rugby games.
And with his move taking place at the end of the Super Rugby season, Van der Merwe may just get the chance to notch his century in front of his home fans.
He is due to return for the last two games of the Lions season but as he told supersport.com, there is an outside chance he could play his 100th game.
“I’ll definitely be ready for the last two, but hopefully also the game against the Bulls. I thought about it and the prospect of playing 99 games, but then again, Mark Boucher is stuck on 999 wickets in cricket and if he can overcome it, then so can I,” Van der Merwe laughed.
At the age of 31 now, he feels it is the right time for him to head overseas.
“I’m 31 and I’ve signed a two-year deal. My wife and I feel that it is the right time for a career change, hopefully we can experience a new culture and lifestyle. It’s been something we’ve discussed for a while now and there really hasn’t been a time to do it before now,” Van der Merwe told supersport.com.
“There are a few South Africans up there, so I’m looking forward to meeting up with them and making new friends in a different culture.”
Van der Merwe admitted he agonised over the move, especially as he is on the fringe of the Bok squad, but decided he needed to make the move abroad.
“It’s a difficult one, I was in the group and I was overjoyed to play my only test, but then I was suddenly out of the group again,” Van der Merwe explained.
“It is difficult as it is something that isn’t in my hands, and I can only give my best. It is still my dream to represent my country and in one way that is a good thing with this move – Ulster are a strong club in the Northern Hemisphere, and my rugby can only go forward by playing in such an environment.”
Van der Merwe said he was sad to leave the Lions, as he had been at the province for eight seasons.
“I arrived in the middle of the Currie Cup in 2006 and played five games for the Lions that season. Since then I’ve seen coaches come and go, players come and go and there are only a handful of players still around that were with me way back then. The Lions have been good for me in my time there, and I’ve had an unbelievable run, but hopefully it isn’t over yet.”