Rugby Union

McFarland: Vermeulen arrival can help Ulster push for silverware

New Ulster signing Duane Vermeulen isn’t due to arrive in Belfast until early December due to international commitments with South Africa

Ulster’s season opener against Glasgow tonight has been somewhat overshadowed by the future arrival of Springbok Duane Vermeulen.

The World Cup winner is seen as the ideal replacement for Marcel Coetzee who left Ulster last season.

The arrival of Coetzee’s initial replacement Leone Nakarawa fell through after the Fijian failed a medical.

Explaining how the Vermeulen signing, who isn’t due to arrive in Belfast until early December due to international commitments, came about, McFarland said that when Bryn Cunningham, Ulster’s Director of Operations, said ‘What about Duane Vermeulen?’, McFarland immediately replied “Yes Please!”

Despite there being a number of candidates available, McFarland wasn’t just going to sign a player for the sake of it and holding fire seems to have paid off and as the head coach explained, there was certain criteria to be met before any target could be approached.

“We were very specific about the type of player we wanted and that was somebody who we felt was really going to make a difference to us. We wanted them to be a back rower, but we wanted them to be an influential back rower,” said McFarland.

“In terms of what Duane can offer, he’s a World Cup winning No 8. He was MVP in a World Cup final. He’s obviously a really big bodied back rower. We’ve got really good players but we don’t have big bodied back rowers and that’s what Marcel was and Duane brings that."

But there is more to Vermeulen’s game than power and strength as McFarland explained.

“He brings a lot of game nous. Obviously a really smart player. You can see when the fact that the Springboks were so keen to get him back into their team, the kind of influence that he has, his able power on the game and the people around him. It doesn’t really need me to explain that he is and has been a top-quality player for a long time.

After suffering a Pro14 final defeat to Leinster in 2020 and a gut-wrenching defeat in last season’s European challenge cup semi-final to Leicester, McFarland, now entering his fourth season as Ulster Head Coach was keen to stress that his arrival of Vermeulen doesn’t necessarily mean that the arrival of silverware is guaranteed.

“I think that on the few occasions we have been in reaching distance of trophies, it’s us as a team that have fallen short. That’s progress. Is a player of Duane’s quality going add to that? Definitely. But do I think it’s the answer that gets you over the line? No. It will be the team and he’ll play a part in that,” said McFarland.

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