Ulster add beef to pack with signing of South African prop for next season
ULSTER HAVE ADDED another South African forward to their squad with the signing of 26-year-old loosehead prop Schalk van der Merwe as a project player from next season.
The Southern Kings front rower will link up with Les Kiss’s side following the conclusion of this year’s Super Rugby season in July or August, depending on whether the South African franchise qualify for the knockout stages of the 18-team competition.
The 113kg Van der Merwe, who has agreed a two-year deal at Ulster, already has experience of playing in Europe, having had a spell working under Jake White at Montpellier last season.
Former Lions prop Van der Merwe will join fellow South African Arno Botha at Kingspan Stadium next season after the back rower’s move from the Blue Bulls, also at the end of the current Super Rugby campaign, was confirmed in January.
The pair will link up with fellow South African natives Marcell Coetzee, Robbie Diack, Wiehahn Herbst, Rob Herring and Louis Ludik at the club, although talisman Ruan Pienaar is controversially departing the province due to the IRFU’s succession policy.
Herbst becomes Irish-qualified this summer when he reaches the three-year mark in Belfast and that has opened up a project-player spot in the Ulster squad.
“Schalk is a talented player who I’ve been really impressed by — he was the cornerstone of the Lions scrum that dominated for a couple of Super Rugby seasons,” Ulster director of rugby Kiss said in a statement.
“In addition to his excellent scrummaging, he will give us some much-needed physicality in the loose, and this will be a major plus for us in the seasons ahead.
“He has a hard edge and he’s determined to work hard to nail down a starting place here at Ulster.
“His arrival will give us much improved depth at loosehead, with Kyle McCall, Andy Warwick and Callum Black also on the books.
“As we’ve seen this season, injuries, particularly in the front row, mean that at times we’re required to delve deep into our pool of resources.”
Van der Merwe is the third confirmed Ulster signing for next season after Botha and Connacht scrum-half John Cooney, while lock Franco van der Merwe is moving to Cardiff.
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Ulster also recently announced that former All Black Jono Gibbes will take over as head coach next season with ex-Wales scrum-half Dwayne Peel to assume the role of assistant coach.
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