In the latest instalment of our end of season interviews Matt Merritt catches up with one of the veteran members of the London Irish team as he gets Franco van der Merwe’s opinion on the season, the goals for the team and how well South Africa will do at the World Cup.
So how have you found your first stint in Championship rugby Franco?
It was a very interesting season… I think it was one of those where you go back to your roots and how you started out in rugby. Driving along to some of the pitches… it was an unreal experience but I’m very happy that we survived the season and qualified to go up to the Prem again!
What do you think we take from this season and into the Prem from what we’ve achieved this year?
Well, I think the one thing is that we lost so many players at the beginning of the season that it was a good way for us to build into a new team, into a new season, and get the guys going.
There were a lot of guys coming in too, but as a core base we needed this to – especially in the second half of the season – gel into a great team with a core that will carry through into next season.
Except for getting promoted of course, that was probably the most important thing for us!
You’re one of the elder statesmen in the team, it must be good to see so many young lads coming through this year and to be able to help them with their development?
Yeah, the squad needs that. The older guys need the young guys to push them, to show their talent and skill. The older guys have the experience but you need those young players that push the boundaries every single time.
Look at Ben Loader, he’s scored some tries that you shouldn’t be allowed to score, but he’s had an unbelievable season.
It’s good for the team and it’s also good for the club, the future looks really healthy!
One of the points that has come up all season is that people probably don’t fully appreciate the quality level in this league, especially in the forwards. As a tight five forward yourself, how have you found it?
It was pretty tough in the Champ to be fair. It’s slower so players don’t look to exploit gaps they just run right at you. You’ve got some big players as well, maybe they’re not the fittest and they might not last the full 8- minutes but I’ll tell you, there’s some big boys running around down in this league! I think back to the Bedford pack and from 1 through 8 it’s big boys coming around the corner every time. You’ve got to work extra hard and physically it really does drain you.
I’m sure like all the boys you’re excited to get a break from ruby, but as a proud South African, what do you think of the Springboks chances at the World Cup this year?
We’re gonna win it, no doubt about it! After the last World Cup we had two years that were a bit tough for us but with coach Rassie coming in and changing a few things, bringing back in one or two of the older players, I think he’s bringing in a lot of experience and he’s got a good mix there so I’m looking forward to what we’re gonna do.
So, in my humble and honest opinion, I’d say South Africa.
Have you got any particular summer plans yourself?
I’ll definitely be going back to the family and friends. First flight out at the end of the season I’ll be off to my in-laws to spend some quality time with them and we’ll be back somewhere in June to start pre-season ready for the Prem.
Our thanks as always to the media team at ondon Irish for their support putting these interviews together all season long!