Ulster’s Springbok lock Franco van der Merwe has only been in Ireland 18 months but fully understands the significance of this afternoon’s derby date with Munster.
He will play his fourth game against Anthony Foley’s squad, but has yet to chalk up a victory after three defeats and last year’s skin-of-their-teeth 23-23 draw thanks to an injury-time conversion by fly-half Paddy Jackson.
The 32-year-old van der Merwe is the busiest player in Ulster’s squad, having sat out just two games this season. But the former Sharks lock wants to extend Ulster’s four-match winning streak and finally nail a victory over their southern rivals.
“I remember last year when we came very close, it was in the dying seconds we drew here and Jacko slotted a kick to get the draw. Then we lost there by four points, we got four tries but they got five. Last season there was also a one-point loss at Thomond, so all the games have been so close,” said van der Merwe.
“It’s frustrating but that’s not our focus this weekend. We don’t live in the past and we’ve got a new focus and a new management set-up and we’ve just got to concentrate on this game. It’s not going to be easy especially after they’ve lost five games in a row, that’s not the Munster I’ve come to know. We’re facing them this weekend and the weather is looking bad and I think they’re going to be up for the challenge.
“That’s Munster - they know how to bounce back and we respect that. We know we have to front up and be ready for a tough game. We managed to win at Edinburgh which was good but against Toulouse we really played well but that’s behind us and we can’t really focus too much on that anymore.” Van Der Merwe and Ulster are boosted by the manner in which they dug out victory away to high flying Connacht on St Stephen’s Day.
“Playing away in Connacht is tough and last year we had to fight hard to get the win.
“I think for us to go down and get the win was really good for the boys. For us it is really just focusing on this game and thinking about play-offs and looking at the table. “We have to play well this weekend and we’ve got to keep our momentum going into the next series of games.” The popular van der Merwe is a key man in the line-out, an area which Ulster have been very proficient this season.
“It’s not a one man thing it’s all eight, everyone is working hard and with Allen Clarke giving us all the information for the line-outs he’s been putting in a lot of hours. It doesn’t matter who runs the line-out they’re stepping into the system and executing it.
“From the hooker all the way back to the lifting and jumping everyone is buying into the system so far it’s been going well for us. Hopefully, everything continues to the same vein and we can get that vital win to boost our chance in the Pro12.”
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