I joined Irish because of Venter says Franco
SECOND row enforcer Franco van der Merwe has revealed why the lure of working under South African legend Brendan Venter persuaded him to join London Irish once it became clear Cardiff Blues were willing to release him.
Capped once by South Africa in 2013, van der Merwe had been due to join Cardiff from Ulster this summer, but with the cashstrapped Welsh region looking to trim their wage bill, the powerful former Lions lock headed for London instead. Van der Merwe told The
Rugby Paper: “I was excited to join Cardiff and they were excited to have me, but things out of our hands made it possible to play Premiership rugby and, it was a good opportunity.
“Cardiff would have always honoured my contract, they never said they wouldn’t and there were no hard feelings, but the decision to go or not lay with me and (technical director) Brendan Venter and (director of rugby) Nick Kennedy convinced me to come to London Irish. I’ve enjoyed every minute.
“Brendan was one of the big reasons I decided to come. I know that wherever Brendan is involved will be a success story and I could see from day one that the staff and structure that he’s implemented here is geared towards winning.
“The coaches bring so much energy to the table, it’s been easy to slot in among a great bunch of guys and every day is made interesting. You’ve seen the success Saracens have enjoyed since Brendan put in the structures there a few years ago and his hand is involved in a lot of the stuff that’s been going on at Irish as well.”
The Exiles are banking on van der Merwe’s physicality and lineout leadership skills to help guide them towards Premiership security – abilities he demonstrated in abundance during a dramatic opening day victory over Harlequins.
Van der Merwe said: “I’d never played at Twickenham before so to have my first game for Irish there in front of 55,000 fans made it really special.
“I’m happy to accept the responsibility Irish place on me – I did that at Ulster and find it pretty easy to be a leader – but we also have Sebastian de Chaves, who has been doing a great job in the lineout and is obviously a top quality player.
“What’s struck me most is the commitment of the whole squad here; there’s no egos, no cliques, no bad energy or negative vibes.”
Van der Merwe’s lone appearance for South Africa came as a replacement during a 38-27 Rugby Championship defeat by New Zealand at Ellis Park.
He would surely have won more caps but for a quirk of fate that saw his career sandwiched between immoveable Springbok second row legends Bakkies Botha and Victor Matfield and up and coming successors Eben Etzebeth, Pieter-Steph du Toit and Lood de Jager.
Van der Merwe reflected: “It was a good time to watch Victor and Bakkies pretty much run the lineout show and play brilliant, worldclass rugby for years, but it made it very difficult for anyone else to break in.”
Van der Merwe added: “Although I’m 34, I feel quite a bit younger so I’ll throw myself into London life with my family and embrace the challenge.”
Powerful: Franco van der Merwe
Success: Brendan Venter