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Franco van der Merwe believes the URC will re-energise South African rugby

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Former Ulster star Franco Van Der Merwe

Former Ulster star Franco Van Der Merwe

Former Ulster star Franco Van Der Merwe

Former Ulster lock Franco van der Merwe believes the United Rugby Championship will capture the imagination of South African rugby fans, even if it takes the new sides time to adjust to the new league.

With another of Van der Merwe’s old employers, the Lions, in Belfast this evening, it is a first head-to-head for Dan McFarland’s men with one of the four franchises introduced for this season.

“I think it’s something different and I do think it will appeal, seeing Leinster, Ulster, Benetton, and all different players,” said the former Springbok who spent three seasons in Belfast between 2014 and 2017.

“But I get the feeling it’ll take a season or two to understand the northern hemisphere rugby.

“The Cheetahs and the Kings were already in so I suppose people were already exposed to it a little bit but what I do think is that when the teams come to South Africa, it will make it more interesting.

“That will bring excitement.

“We were doing Super Rugby for a long time and I think something new is what was needed to bring some energy back to the crowds.

“Hopefully by the time the guys get here (to South Africa), we could be open to having crowds back and having people watching live.”

As they look to make it four wins from four to start the new season, Ulster head coach McFarland has named the same starting side that beat Benetton a week ago, although both Kieran Treadwell and Eric O’Sullivan are fit enough to return to the bench.

With O’Sullivan held in reserve for what is sure to be a mighty visiting scrum, Andy Warwick gets the start at loosehead a week after dislocating his finger but there is no place in the match-day 23 once again for tight-head Marty Moore, who sustained a concussion in training last week.

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