Franco van der Merwe signs new Ulster deal

Ulster’s South African workhorse Franco van der Merwe has signed a one-year extension to his contract which will keep him at the Kingspan Stadium until June 2017.

The South African lock has been a guiding influence for Ulster since his arrival at the start of last season and has played more games than any other player in the senior squad during that time, captaining the province several times last season in the absence of regular skipper, Rory Best.

“I have tried to bring some of my experience to the group and help some of the younger players. It’s been encouraging to see some young forwards come through and make their mark in Europe and in the Pro12, which augers well for a successful Ulster team in the future,” said Van der Merwe.

“This season has been a bit of a transition with Les (Kiss) coming in, but I’m really excited to be part of the squad’s growth over the next 18 months. The challenge is to keep improving and pushing to achieve silverware, and I’m confident we’ll continue to develop our game under Les and the other coaches.”

Kiss, Ulster’s Director of Rugby, welcomed the news Van der Merwe would be at the club next season:

“To have Franco stay for another season is a fantastic boost for Ulster. His professional approach and the standards he sets have been integral to the development of the young players coming through.”

Meanwhile, there is a chink of light for Ulster regarding Ireland trio Iain Henderson, Dan Tuohy, and Tommy Bowe.

Henderson, 23, was expected to miss the whole of the season after suffering a grade one hamstring tear in October. He was also expected to miss Ireland’s trip to South Africa in the summer. However, he received encouraging news from his surgeon earlier this week in London, and now hopes he can get a run before the end of April.

“I’m just back from the consultant in London it was positive news. Fingers crossed I’ll get some games in before the end of the season.”

Bowe, who had major surgery on his knee following injury during the World Cup, is back training and progressing well while Dan Tuohy is hoping for good news soon regarding his broken foot. It is hoped the big lock will return before March.

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