Stephen Ferris says the shock signing of World Cup winner Duane Vermeulen should fuel inject Ulster’s ambitions heading into the new season.
The Premier Sports pundit also believes the capture of the Springbok, who was being courted by clubs in England, is a major “coup” for the province.
“What more can you say,” said the former Ireland and Ulster ace. “It’s Duane Vermeulen and he’s coming to Belfast. It’s a fantastic signing.”
Vermeulen, an unexpected replacement for Marcell Coetzee who left for the Bulls in April, is arguably the most high profile signing in the province’s history.
Nicknamed the ‘Thor’ of rugby, the 18 stone No8 – who has signed a two year deal until 2023 – is set to arrive in Belfast after South Africa’s autumn internationals.
The 35-year-old could make his debut in early-December against the Ospreys in the new-look United Rugby Championship or Clermont in the Heineken Champions Cup.
“It is a big coup for Bryn Cunningham (Ulster’s head of recruitment),” said Ferris.
“He was wanted in Japan and I was speaking to an agent saying there were clubs all over England looking at him, so for Ulster to get him is a big, big deal.
“He’s a World Cup winner, vastly experienced and the perfect player to come here where the weather means it won’t be hard pitches and fast running rugby all year round.
“He’s a slightly different player from Marcell Coetzee. He’s a colossus of a man, but he’s not just going to crash it up and give you front foot ball.
“He’s a brilliant maul defender, very steady at the back of a scrum, can put teammates into holes, get through contact and he’s also a pretty good defender.
“Yes, he’s 35 and yes, he’s had a few injuries over the past year, but he’s been very durable any time he has played. It’s a fantastic signing.”
Ferris hopes Vermeulen lives up to his “marquee signing” status and makes a lasting impact in the mould of former Wallaby Rocky Elsom who starred for Leinster in the late 2000s.
“I’d go back to Rocky signing for Leinster,” he said. “Marquee signings like that can contribute so much because sometimes it’s that extra two or three percent that you need in the big games.
“It breeds confidence. I wouldn’t want to be going up against him and those guys at Leinster – Josh van der Flier, Jack Conan, whoever is playing – they’ll know how good he is.
“I hope it’s not a situation like Justin Harrison where he was brilliant in that first season (with Ulster in 2005) and then fizzled out. I don’t think he will.”
Ferris says the signing of Vermeulen, who sat out the recent Lions tour with an injury, is a timely boost after Ulster opted out of signing Fijian Leon Nakarawa in June.
“There has been so much disappointment over some things that have happened and then all of a sudden ‘Duane Vermeulen has signed’,” he said.
“It’ll give everyone a lift.”
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