Springbok hoping to further international career at Ulster

Having been marginalised from the South African national squad after one appearance last year, Franco van der Merwe hopes to move to Ulster will improve his chances of getting back on the international front.

The Irish Province confirmed last night that the lock had joined them on a two-year contract - although his current club, the Golden Lions had earlier released details about his move to Belfast.

The 31-year-old is currently nursing an ankle injury which had threatened to keep him out for up to six months, but van der Merwe is hopeful he may yet get to make his 100th Super Rugby appearance this season with the Lions before leaving his native South Africa.

The lock is seen as a direct replacement for Ulster skipper, Johann Muller, who has been a tremendous servant to the club in his four years at Ravenhill both on and off the pitch.

He is to retire from professional rugby at the end of the current season.

While Muller, who played in the South African world cup winning side in 2007 and was called back to the panel for 2011 based on his performances with Ulster, fellow Springbok, Ruan Pienaar, has remained a regular in the South African national side.

And van der Merwe hopes he can boost his international hopes in spite of the geographical challenges ahead of next year’s World Cup.

“There are a few South Africans up there, so I’m looking forward to meeting up with them and making new friends in a different culture,” said van der Merwe

“It is still my dream to represent my country and in one way that is a good thing with this move – Ulster are a strong club in the Northern Hemisphere, and my rugby can only go forward by playing in such an environment.”

Commenting on his move to Ulster the Bok added: “I spoke with Johann and Ruan about Ulster Rugby and they had only had good things to say. That made the decision really easy for me.”

David Humphreys, Ulster’s Director of Rugby, said: “I am delighted that Franco has agreed to join Ulster Rugby. His Super XV experience, his lineout ability and his leadership qualities were what set him apart from the others that we spoke to over the past few months.

“His recent international cap for South Africa has only made him more ambitious to achieve further success in his rugby career.”

Humphreys added: “In the past few seasons we have recruited top-class international players to compliment our panel of highly talented homegrown players. Franco will play an important role for Ulster both on and off the pitch in developing this talent even further and I have no doubt that he will be a big success at Ravenhill.”