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Ulster ace Duane Vermeulen may be key to Bulls’ United Rugby Championship title hopes, while Bangor native Mark McCall eyes further glory with Saracens



Ulster ace Duane Vermeulen has allowed the Bulls to pick his brain

Ulster ace Duane Vermeulen has allowed the Bulls to pick his brain

©INPHO/Laszlo Geczo

Mark McCall is hoping to inspire Saracens again

Mark McCall is hoping to inspire Saracens again

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Ulster ace Duane Vermeulen has allowed the Bulls to pick his brain

While Ulster’s head coach Dan McFarland said after last week’s semi-final defeat that he’d not be watching today’s URC showpiece conclusion between the Bulls and the Stormers, the northern province will have at least one interested observer when silverware is handed out in Cape Town.

After a significant individual performance in that Stormers defeat seven days ago, Duane Vermeulen remained back home in South Africa to undergo off-season knee surgery and he was spotted at the Bulls’ captain’s run at DHL Stadium yesterday.

Despite having starred for both sides — the Stormers before his initial spell in Europe with Toulon and then the Bulls prior to joining Ulster — the Springbok No.8 will clearly be hoping that it is his more recent former team-mates that claim the title in their first URC season.

Pictured sporting a pair of crutches as the Bulls went about their business, Vermeulen’s presence was also flagged by his former coach Jake White, who admitted he has been picking the 35-year-old’s brain about Ulster’s success at stopping the Stormers maul last week.

“Duane actually (had) lunch with me,” said White.

“He also (accompanied) us to the captain’s run specifically because I wanted to pick his brain on how Ulster were so successful in that regard.

“I’m going to show him our lineouts. I have everything here on my screen that I want to show him. I want to ask him what their plan would’ve been in this clip and that one. Also, why was something done in a certain way on a relevant occasion.

“I’m covering that base too.

“Our coaches have done enough homework with scenario planning on all the factors that might apply to this game.

“It’s why we’ve brought in Duane. He (talked) to us about what Ulster felt last week. It’s an incredible extra bit of info that you can get, and I am looking forward to that.

“When you take that into account with how this group has grown and applied all their learnings from the campaign, we take incredible confidence into the match.”

Vermeulen’s predecessor in the Ulster No.8 jersey, Marcell Coetzee, will again captain the Bulls from the flank, hoping to be the first man to get his hands on the new piece of silverware for the inaugural URC.

It will be interesting to attempt to gauge how much of a splash the game makes in the northern hemisphere after the last of the sides from this part of the world, Ulster and Leinster, were defeated in the last-four.

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It has long felt that a north versus south game was the organisers’ dream final, but the presence of two South African sides in the final during their first year will be a sign for the Irish sides that they need to raise their game in the seasons ahead.

Having dominated this competition for so long, a greater challenge was called for and now that it has arrived, they must answer the bell moving forward. 

And while the Ulstermen can’t lift a trophy this season, one Ulsterman still might with Mark McCall’s Saracens doing battle with Leicester for the Premiership title.

What would be a sixth winners’ medal for Bangor native McCall would surely rank as one of the sweetest of all, coming as it would in their first season back in the top flight after relegation for salary cap breaches in 2020. 

Ahead of the game, Mako Vunipola, the English prop who will be representing the club for a 200th time at Twickenham, paid tribute to his long-time boss.

“He does so many things that we don’t see as a group of players and we question a few things but then when it comes to the end of the year you think, ‘Oh, okay’ and realise that his ability to see the bigger picture, for me anyway, is his biggest strength.

“He can see that there is something that we need to fix now in September or October otherwise it will bite us when we get around to March, April time.

“I think he’s second to none, the direction he’s given to us and as a group of senior players, the openness that he shares with us has been amazing.

“I think we kind of take for granted as senior players the ability to talk to him, not on equal stead but for him to listen.”

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