Duane Vermeulen thankful that turn at the crossroads took him to Ulster

Duane Vermeulen says the work ethic and positive energy from his new Ulster team-mates helped him integrate seamlessly into the team when he joined up with the in November

Heineken Champions Cup Round of 16, second leg: Ulster (26) v Toulouse (20) (today, 8pm, BT Sport 2)

AFTER reaching the pinnacle of his career in 2019 by playing a starring role in South Africa’s World Cup triumph in Japan, Duane Vermeulen suddenly found himself at a crossroads last summer.

With his contract up in South Africa with the Bulls, the offer of a return to Japan wasn’t what the 35-year-old was needing at this point in his career.

“I was just in a bad spot in South Africa. My contract came to an end and I was looking at going back to Japan.

“Then this offer came up and I sat down, I spoke to my wife and I said listen, let’s do this as a family, as a last Hail Mary before I retire,” said Vermuelen.

As well as that spell in Japan with Kubota Spears, Vermuelen has also tasted life in France with Toulon.

Spending a lot of time away from his family was also a deciding factor in relocating to Belfast as he explains.

“I’ve been away from my family the last seven years and people don’t really realise how difficult that is. We sat down and said this is the last step and hopefully I can come here and contribute.

“There was a decision to be made and we did it and whole heartedly I’m enjoying my time here.”

After announcing last August that he was signing for Ulster, Vermeulen didn’t join up with the squad until late November due to commitments with South Africa and the Barbarians.

Joining up with a new team with the season in full swing may have been a difficult situation to come into, but the Player of the Match in the 2019 World Cup final cited that the work ethic and positive energy from his new team-mates helped him settle in seamlessly.

“It’s a bunch of youngish guys and they’re full of energy.

“It’s nice to work with guys who are enthusiastic about the game and who love to learn everyday when they are out there on the field.

“So, it’s not just the individuals, but obviously the whole squad has been doing really well, doing a lot of work on and off the field so it’s great to see the guys pitching in and talking and setting examples, even a lot of the younger guys.”

Vermuelen’s contract takes him to June 2023 and while he is here, he intends to make his mark.

The powerful back row unit has never tasted success in European club rugby’s premier event and he delivered a clear message on his aspirations for what he wants to achieve before the end of his tenure in Belfast.

“You don’t play in a competition just to compete – you play in a competition to win. That’s the ultimate goal.

“I haven't had the opportunity to be a part of a squad that has lifted this trophy but we are in touching distance but not there yet.

“Everyone wants to lift trophies but not just win but making memories throughout that journey and writing your own book and saying this is my chapter.

“And the next game is chapter two.”

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