Springbok hooker Akker van der Merwe survived a match halting hail storm at Exeter and is now determined to stop a Northampton storm from knocking Sale’s bid for a top-four Premiership place off course.
Van der Merwe was one of the first Sale players to race off the Sandy Park pitch last weekend as hail forced the referee to halt the Heineken Champions Cup loss to Exeter for a short period in the second half. That second successive European loss to Exeter seriously damaged Sale’s hopes in the competition which means attention now turns to the Premiership and the arrival of top of the table Northampton, who have just endured two hammerings by Leinster in Europe, conceding a debilitating 93 points in those losses.
However, Northampton are set to recall likes of Cobus Reinach, Courtney Lawes, David Ribbans, Mike Haywood, Teimana Harrison, Rory Hutchinson, Tom Collins and George Furbank to try and maintain their Premiership position. As a result, van der Merwe is expecting to face a Northampton backlash that will severely test Sale’s own credentials as potential top four finishers.
Van der Merwe told RugbyPass: “We scored a try at Exeter and then Jono (Ross, Sale captain) came running back and just smiled at me as the hail started.
“I had never played in hail before and when the ref said “time off” I was probably the first one into the dressing room. It is a lot different from Durban and I don’t think I have ever been to a place (Manchester) where it rains so much!
“Now we are facing Northampton and after the Leinster results, their boys will be hungrier and up for it and it will be a tough battle. I am here to test myself against the best and I am looking forward to the battle on Saturday – there is definitely going to be one.
“We haven’t delivered that 80 mins performance yet and this is a really important time of the season. The weather makes it a lot more difficult to move the ball wide and so the forwards have to be on their game all the time. Set piece dominance is what we look to achieve and back in Super Rugby while the teams aren’t weaker, you expect to get your four points against the bottom teams but here the bottom side can beat the top one. If you are not on it every week you will lose. Over the next three weeks, we must finish the year well.”
Van der Merwe won the last of his three test caps against England last year in Bloemfontein in the same Springbok team as Faf de Klerk, now his teammate at Sale. De Klerk was in the international wilderness when he arrived at Sale but his performances for the Premiership club earned him a recall which led to a World Cup winner’s medal in Japan. Van der Merwe believes playing in England will make him a more complete player and hopes to relaunch his own test career.
Terribly sad news coming out of France. Thoughts and prayers are with his family https://t.co/GG8zjLY9ZG
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) December 19, 2019
The hooker scored two tries in the first of those two Heineken Champions Cup defeats by Exeter to showcase his attacking skills, but it is the piano shifting rather than the piano playing that is the key part of a hooker’s game to ensure quality ball from scrum and line out.
“Playing here is going to challenge me in a way I haven’t been challenged before,” he added. “It will make me a better player and the dream is still to play for the Springboks.
“It is nice to run with the ball but my primary work is in the tight and I need to get all of those things right before I start thinking about open play.”
In the New Year van der Merwe will be throwing lineout ball to World Cup-winning Springbok lock Lood de Jager who will arrive at Sale after recovering from a serious shoulder injury suffered in the final against England in Yokohama. There is already a strong Springbok contingent at the club headed by de Klerk along with Rob Du Preez and his brothers Jean-Luc and Dan plus prop Coenie Oosthuizen who were all part of the Sharks Super Rugby squad with van der Merwe last season
Having swapped the sun of Durban for Manchester’s inclement weather, fifth placed Sale need van der Merwe and his South African mates to help make this a winning Happy Christmas – despite the weather.
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