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Franco is eager to start building up winning momentum

By Staff Reporter

With Ulster's next seven games after tonight's tussle with Edinburgh at the Kingspan Stadium (7.35pm kick-off) either Champions Cup or inter-provincial contests, Franco van der Merwe has urged the team to embark on a winning run.

Despite boasting a perfect record at home in the league this season, Ulster have not won back-to-back games since April and are coming off consecutive defeats to Saracens in Europe and Leinster in the PRO12.

The latter reverse saw Ulster drop to seventh in the table and Van der Merwe admits that it's been a struggle for a team unaccustomed to finding themselves in the league's lower half and in need of victories.

"I think it's been a disappointing two weeks for us," he said.

"We need momentum and that starts this weekend. If we can win and take that confidence and continuity into next weekend's game with Toulouse, it gives us a chance in a tough pool."

With Ospreys, Treviso and Cardiff all having surrendered five-pointers when visiting Belfast this season, Van der Merwe thinks the team can take confidence from their impressive home record - they have not lost in their last 14 PRO12 games in Belfast - even if they have not played host as often as the South African would have liked.

All six sides above Ulster in the league have had the benefit of five home games to date, in contrast to the province's three, and the once-capped Springbok admits it has been a less than ideal fixture slate.

"We've really played well at home; three brilliant games, three bonus-point wins," he said.

"There's a lot of confidence that the guys can take from that and hopefully we can carry it into the game.

"I think it's important we have a good game this weekend. It's been stop-start this season.

"We've played a lot of away games and I think the PRO12 has been really competitive this season. There's so many games where teams have lost with bonus points.

"We've only had three home games so that makes it a bit difficult. Last year we had a nice draw earlier in the season.

"It'll be a tough game but we've had a good week of training and it's big to be coming back to the Kingspan and the support we have here.

"Edinburgh are a really good team, they're well coached and they're going really well this season. It's going to be a major challenge."

With plenty of Afrikaans set to be exchanged between the two sides tonight - both teams have a healthy dose of South African imports - Van der Merwe is looking forward to going up against a number of his compatriots including fellow PRO12 Team of the Year inclusion WP Nel.

"We'll definitely enjoy playing each other," he said. "It's always nice playing against your fellow countrymen. In fact, I think we go that bit harder. We'll socialise after and talk and enjoy our time being here."

One such topic of conversation may be whether Van der Merwe plans on continuing his stay in the Northern Hemisphere.

While his two-year Ulster deal is soon to enter its final quarter, he says there has as yet been no sit down with the team's management about an extension.

"I'm sure we'll start the discussions very soon," he said before adding with a laugh: "I wouldn't mind staying!"

Belfast Telegraph

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