Stephen Ferris hails Ulster’s ‘big coup’ in capturing Duane Vermeulen

‘He’s a World Cup winner and vastly experienced and I think he’s the perfect player'

South Africa number eight Duane Vermeulen  prepares to scrum down during the Rugby World Cup final against England in Yokohama. Photograph:  Craig Mercer/MB Media/Getty Images)

South Africa number eight Duane Vermeulen prepares to scrum down during the Rugby World Cup final against England in Yokohama. Photograph: Craig Mercer/MB Media/Getty Images)

 

No one saw this one coming.

Less than a year after letting Marcell Coetzee return early to South Africa and the Bulls, Ulster are bringing his fellow countryman Duane Vermeulen to the Kingspan from the same Pretoria-based franchise.

One world-class gamebreaker for another and just when it was thought that Dan McFarland was making do with what he had, or rather having short-term signing Mick Kearney as his only outside addition ahead of kick-off in the United Rugby Championship.

Quite the coup then to have sought and secured the signature of World Cup winner and powerhouse backrower Vermeulen and a pretty spectacular move especially after Ulster’s bid to bring Leone Nakarawa to Belfast as a replacement for Coetzee fell through back in June following a medical report.

Even though the 55-times capped Springbok is 35, has had injury issues and will not be available to Ulster until after South Africa’s November internationals, the province clearly felt it was worth pulling out all the stops to secure his services until 2023 with funds doubtless saved from Coetzee’s hefty salary being pushed his way.

That may, of course, have an impact on contract negotiations for resident players at Ulster when it comes to thrashing out new deals but no one could argue that bringing a player of Vermeulen’s quality into the squad could be considered a backward step should he stay fit.

The comparisons with Coetzee will doubtless continue but former Ulster and Ireland playing legend Stephen Ferris believes Ulster have recruited a very special player, likening his potential impact with that of Leinster’s former marquee signing Rocky Elsom.

“It’s a big coup for Bryn Cunningham [head of operations and recruitment] and it’s a big coup for northern hemisphere rugby.

“He was wanted in Japan,” Ferris added at Premier Sports’ coverage launch for the URC, which was held in Belfast on Thursday.

“I was speaking to an agent saying there were clubs all over England looking at him, so for Ulster to get him signed, sealed and delivered is a big, big deal.”

Lachlan Swinton of Australia has words with South Africa’s Duane Vermeulen during the Rugby Championship match s at Cbus Super Stadium in Gold Coast last weekend. Photograph: Matt Roberts/Getty Images
Lachlan Swinton of Australia has words with South Africa’s Duane Vermeulen during the Rugby Championship match at Cbus Super Stadium in Gold Coast last weekend. Photograph: Matt Roberts/Getty Images

With cash-heavy contracts in Japan and France – he has had stints in both countries before – doubtless available, Vermeulen has perhaps chosen the less likely route for the next stage in his career.

Ferris reckons that Ulster’s latest signing likely took advice from the province’s previous South African pipeline.

“I’m guessing there might have been some phone calls to the likes of Ruan Pienaar, Johann Muller and Stefan Terblanche, guys that have played with him over the last decade who have probably sold him on the idea.”

In terms of what he will bring when on the pitch, former backrower Ferris insists that it is not exactly like for like when compared to Coetzee.

“He’s a slightly different player from Coetzee, as he’s not just going to crash it up and give you front-foot ball.

“He’s a brilliant maul defender, he’s a colossus of a man and very steady at the back of a scrum.

“Vermeulen can draw defenders, put boys into holes, he can get through contact and he’s a pretty good defender.

“He’s a World Cup winner and vastly experienced and I think he’s the perfect player to come over here

“And it’s not just what he’s going to bring on the pitch but off it with those younger lads.

“Dan McFarland is very vocal about getting these young lads game time so I don’t think that you’re going to see Duane Vermeulen playing every week.

“They need to keep him fit and fresh for those big games.”

His presence will be key at driving Ulster forward in both the URC – where the northern province are intent on staying ahead of the four newly joined South African franchises while further closing the gap on Munster and Leinster – and especially so in Europe, with tasting knock-out rugby the clear goal for both competitions.

A starting backrow of Jordi Murphy, Sean Reidy and Vermeulen – with Nick Timoney in the mix too – certainly looks a pretty formidable unit.

“I can’t wait to see him over here. I know we’re going to have to wait a little bit longer until after the autumn internationals but I think it’s a fantastic signing.

“Yes, he’s 35, yes he’s had a few injuries over the past year, but he’s been very durable any time he’s played,” Ferris stated.

As for the player himself, the talk was all about the squad’s culture: “Ulster and myself had detailed discussions about the club’s values, expectations and the potential role I can play going forward.

“It appealed and resonated with me to a point where I decided to commit myself to this Ulster journey,” he said.

Vermeulen is due to play for the Boks this weekend in Brisbane for their Rugby Championship clash with Australia and from here on in, every time he togs out, Ulster will be hoping that their new number eight can stay injury-free and not bring with him the lengthy woes which befell Coetzee both before and after he racked up in Northern Ireland.

For Ulster, their new number eight’s arrival has to be worth the wait and the considerable investment.

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