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'It's a weird thing' - How the Duane Vermeulen Ulster signing went down

By Ian Cameron
Duane Vermeulen /Getty Images

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Springbok No.8 Duane Vermeulen has shed some light on why he ended up joining Ulster – and it sounds like it was touch and go on his actually signing – aided by a dose of good timing.

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The Ravenhill club are no strangers to South African players of course – in fact they have quite a history of big-name Springboks signings. The likes of Ruan Pienaar, Marcell Coetzee,  Franco van der Merwe and Johann Muller have called Belfast home in recent seasons, but even in that illustrious context, Vermeulen stands out as a major coup for the Irish province.

‘Thor’  has done it all in the game, even if he’s now reached the ripe old age of 35.

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From the sound of things, Ulster’s Head of Operations and Recruitment, Byrn Cunningham did a slap-up job convincing the World Cup winner to give Belfast a shot when the big No.8 found himself in between contracts.

Ulster for their part had lost out on the signing of Fijian utility forward Leone Nakarawa, after his deal fell through in June.

“It’s a weird thing,” Vermeulen told Ulster Rugby TV when asked about how his signing came about. “I was in a weird place a few months back.

“I was between a rock and a hard place.

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“My contract ended in South Africa and I was looking at maybe going to Japan.

“Obviously Bryn approached us with Ulster. He said ‘listen, hear me out. See if you like it, you can always test the waters and see how it goes.

“My first week has been really good and we’ll see how we go from here but I must say that speaking to a guy that is so passionate about the club and what it’s all about, explaining what it all means, it’s nice to see its bread and butter.

“I spoke to some of the coaches to see what say about the club is really nice. I kind of have the same feeling and passion towards the game.

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“It’s a place where I can definitely learn something and where I can add some value and hopefully this is a start of a good journey.”

After testing positive for Covid-19 in his first week, the 6’3, 115kg backrow made his presence felt playing a key role in Ulster’s remarkable away win against Clermont in the Heineken Champions Cup.

“A lot of guys over the weekend impressed in the way they handled themselves and their professionalism, from the youngster all the way to the senior guys.

“It kind of feel likes it’s a great team environment and I a great team to be a part of.”

It seems in rugby, as in life, timing is everything.

 

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