Belfast Telegraph

Ulster v Cardiff Blues: Franco Van der Merwe says daunting sequence of games holds no fears

By Michael Sadlier

It's all very relaxed with plenty of chat about a certain World Cup, but Franco Van der Merwe still wants to get his message across that all is well despite Ulster's fairly average start to the season.

Two whopping wins at home have to sit alongside the same number of defeats when on the road, where the squad have been anything but impressive, with last Friday's 16-10 reverse at Edinburgh being a deeply frustrating effort even though they still escaped Murrayfield with a losing bonus.

Van der Merwe addresses having to cope with the feeling of adversity that a defeat brings and the extra pressure which comes when turning to face the next challenge which, in this case, is hosting Cardiff Blues on Friday evening (kick-off 7.35pm and live on BBC NI).

"There's always a way through [after defeat]," says the experienced 32-year-old.

"And I think the biggest thing now is [for us] to stick together as a group and as a team.

"There will be negativity from the outside, and there will be people saying this and that about the team," adds the South African second row with what sounds like a bit of a circle the wagons stance.

"But as a team you can't look into the negativity and you can only control what you can control and that's looking at what you have to do next.

"It's always nice to think you can go out the next week and improve on what you've done, or just prove that you're not a bad side, and hopefully we can do it this week," states the one-time capped Springbok whose Ulster contract is up at season's end.

You still can't help but feel that the heat is very much on this Ulster squad and should their inconsistency away from the Kingspan Stadium continue much longer - after Friday they have three straight trips to make, away to Munster and the Dragons in the PRO12 and then their European opener in France with Oyonnax - then substantial damage will already have been done to their season before December is upon us. With no autumn international series to split things up it means that there are now 15 consecutive games to come which includes the European pool clashes.

"We are actually looking forward to this run of games and it's going to be interesting how we're managed during the season," Van der Merwe says when the punishing fixture list is brought up.

In the last campaign, Ulster's injury issues at second row meant that Van der Merwe had to toil long and hard before finally succumbing to a lower leg problem in the league clash with Glasgow Warriors which meant promptly missing the PRO12 play-off defeat against the same opposition.

This time around, though, the idea seems to be to try and rotate players rather more.

"We'd been working on this and we've got a system where there is a bit of rotation where it's Dan (Tuohy), Lewis (Stevenson) or myself, or Peter (Browne), or Alan (O'Connor) coming in.

"Everyone knows their roles very well and you have to get the balance between getting the experience for young guys by playing them and resting senior players as well while having the strongest side when it counts," Van der Merwe points out.

One thing is for sure, something much better than last Friday is central to tomorrow night along with getting the win.

Belfast Telegraph


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