Ulster await decision on Springbok star Duane Vermeulen

Ulster await decision on Springbok star Duane Vermeulen

Autumn Nation Series Twickenham London 20/11/2021

Ulster will find out tomorrow if World Cup-winning Springbok Duane Vermeulen can play in their Champions Cup opener away to Clermont on Saturday.

The province’s star signing tested positive for Covid-19 after his much anticipated arrival in Belfast last week.

The No.8’s first appearance for Ulster was delayed due to his prior commitment to play for the Barbarians against Samoa at Twickenham but the game was called off at the 11th hour due to a positive case.

Vermeulen, 35, then tested positive when he landed in Belfast and had to self isolate — thus ruling him out of Saturday’s United Rugby Championship game away to the Ospreys, which Ulster lost 19-13.

“It’s quite a complicated one this week in terms of who’s available and who’s not so won’t know (if Vermeulen can play) yet, not until Wednesday,” said Ulster head coach Dan McFarland.

Ulster would love to have the South African available just in time for the biggest game of their season so far. They have Clermont away followed by Northampton at home, then the festive inter-pros, before completing their four pool games, in the second year of the condensed European format, in January.

“Hypothetically, yes it would definitely be great to have him,” admitted McFarland. “If he were to be fit and up and running, it would be very smart to have him in the team I think.” Ulster lost 29-13 at Clermont in January 2020 before the pandemic hit, having beaten the star-studded French side 18-13 at home the previous November.

McFarland neatly summed up their class, describing them as a team who “have a lot of superstar players who can make superstar plays”.

“It was tough, we were reminiscing about it earlier today,” added McFarland. “We did a lot of good that day and kept them out of our area for a long period, and they scored right at the end of the game. It’s a game we not, should have, but could have, won.

“We had a couple of moments in and around half time that put us on the back foot, but look, they are a great team. That makes the task for us one of ensuring that we can bring collective pressure with the way we play and put that pressure onto them.

“It’s a difficult task but one to look forward to. On both times we played them they demonstrated they can create and score out of nothing.

“You can’t over emphasise the quality of the challenge they pose, particularly as in the last few weeks they have been able to bring in some star backs like (Damian) Penaud, Alivereti (Raka), and (Camille) Lopez, so we know the challenge we’ve got.”

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