I joined Ir­ish be­cause of Ven­ter says Franco

The Rugby Paper - - News - ■ By NEALE HAR­VEY

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

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