The Wokingham Paper

Franco van der Merwe loving life at London Irish after whirlwind summer

Franco van der Merwe
Franco van der Merwe has been a regular for London Irish this season

THAT WINNING feeling is not far away, according to Franco van der Merwe.

Since the opening day win over Harlequins, London Irish have lost four in a row without picking up any bonus points.

The latest reverse came with a 29-17 defeat at Newcastle Falcons, but the Exiles return to the Mad Stad on Saturday to host in-form Leicester Tigers (3pm).

And summer signing van der Merwe, who has played every game so far this season, says the feel-good factor still exists at Irish.

Van der Merwe (left) has played every game so far (Pic by Pete Bloodworth)

“We are definitely a positive group,” he told The Wokingham Paper.

“There is a very positive management team as well.

“We believe a win is around the corner and every time it’s been pretty close.

“You take it back to even Exeter (a 37-7 defeat), they scored two tries within five minutes at the end of the game and it took the score completely away when we were close to having a bonus point.

“We are on the edge so we should learn from this and realise there’s a fine margin between getting bonus points or winning the game or losing it by 14 or 15 points.

“We are learning as a team and growing every single game and I hope that soon we can get the results we are hoping and training for.”

Defensive frailties have plagued the Exiles all campaign with that evident again at Newcastle by conceding three tries in seven first half minutes.

Director of rugby Nick Kennedy says he plans to spend more time on tightening up that side of that of the game to try and eradicate individual errors.

And van der Merwe says the players have been putting in more hours in an attempt to get it right.

“We’ve definitely had a hard look at the (Newcastle) game and at ourselves as well,” said the second row forward.

“I think there were a couple of times where we had a slight dip in our concentration where they scored back-to-back tries.

“Sometimes it’s individual missed tackles, someone’s a bit tired or just not focussing at that moment.

“But at the end of the day it’s a team effort and you can’t point the finger at anyone, you need to support them and back them up.”

He added: “We put a lot of focus on our defence.

London Irish’s defence has been frail at times this season

“We have done some extra sessions some days just to secure our structure and the way we want to play and to put it together.

“There’s a couple of new players as well and I think everything is just trying to buy into the system and the way we want to defend.

“So yeah, there’s been a little bit of a shift towards more defensive sessions.”

It has been a whirlwind couple of months for van der Merwe.

The one-time South Africa international, 34, was all set to start this season with Cardiff Blues in the Pro14 after joining from Ulster.

However, he was released at the start of August due to financial issues at the Welsh club, leaving him in limbo.

But Irish swooped to secure van der Merwe’s services at the end of that month, giving him a first ever shot at Premiership rugby, and have started him in every game since.

“It’s part of the business,” he said.

“There’s a lot of things happening in rugby that we don’t always understand.

Franco is loving life at London Irish

“But it’s no hard feelings towards Cardiff at all. They were always willing to honour the contract.

“I find myself really enjoying my rugby again at London Irish.

“The management guys are so positive and they’ve made it really easy for me to settle in, as well as my wife and kids.”

He added: “I always watched a couple of Premiership games and to be playing in it is quite nice.

“I enjoy playing at the top level and this is surely one of the best leagues you can play in.

“There’s a lot of internationals playing week in, week out which makes it very competitive. But that’s really good from a personal point of view to grow as a player.”

This weekend’s opponents Leicester travel to Berkshire on the back of three straight wins.

But with European and domestic cup action soon taking the focus, Exiles will be keen to put some more points on the board on Saturday.

“That’s one thing about the Premiership, it doesn’t get any easier,” said van der Merwe.

Napolioni Nalaga is ruled out of this weekend with a broken arm

“Each weekend it just gets tougher and tougher.

“Leicester have had a good couple of games and we know what we’re going to get this weekend.

“They’re a very physical side and they’re pretty tough up front as well.

“That’s the way they train and the way they’ve been playing for years and years.

“We’re just focussing on the way we want to attack them and hopefully it will go our way.”

Van der Merwe is again in the starting 15 for tomorrow’s visit of Leicester Tigers.

Ben Meehan and Jake Schatz have been handed their first starts, but Napolioni Nalaga misses out after breaking his arm against Newcastle last time out.

LONDON IRISH XV: Bell, Lewington, Tikoirotuma, Tonks, Ojo, Marshall, Meehan, Franks, Paice (c), Du Plessis, van der Merwe, De Chaves, McNally, Cowan, Schatz.
Reps: Gleave, Elrington, Hoskins, Paulo, Lomidze, Steele, Brophy Clews, Fowlie.

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