Duane Vermeulen: 'I don't play this game to compete, I play to win', Springbok tells Ulster Rugby Show

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Duane Vermeulen: South Africa World Cup winner on joining Ulster Rugby
World Cup winner Duane Vermeulen joins Rory Best, Tommy Bowe and Gavin Andrews
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South African forward Duane Vermeulen arrived at Ulster with a big reputation and undoubted pedigree.

The number eight was a World Cup winner with the Springboks in 2019 and fans of the Irish province hope his capture may provide that elusive 'x-factor' which turns a team that challenges for silverware into one that picks up trophies.

While Ulster coach Dan McFarland hailed the 35-year-old's signing as an important piece of the jigsaw to that end, he was at pains not to heap pressure on his new recruit by emphasising that the addition of one player, however impressive their CV, did not automatically turn his squad into likely winners.

Despite that dampening down of expectations , Vermeulen is happy to concede that he is here to try and help his new employers enjoy success and end a barren spell without a trophy which now stands at 15 years.

"I don't play this game to compete, I play to win. Everyone wants to walk off the field a winner and lift trophies - that's what it's all about," the back-row forward told BBC Sport NI's The Ulster Rugby Show.

"If I can contribute to something like that I'd be happy. By doing that you get younger guys looking up to you and learning from you. You don't even have to say anything, people see the difference quickly.

"You have to have guys working towards that same goal and keep on setting goals along the way, consistently growing as a team.

"From what I have seen in my short time as part of the squad it seems the guys have that so now it's just fine tuning.

"In South Africa we love the maul. It's really part of the things we do and it's something I hope I can contribute to this squad and hopefully we can change one or two things and score a lot of maul tries."

'Great vibe and massive energy' in Ulster squad

With the signing of Vermeulen having been announced in mid-September, the news that he had contracted Covid-19, thereby immediately delaying his training and playing opportunities, put something of a dampener on his keenly-anticipated arrival in late November.

After missing the United Rugby Championship defeat by Ospreys as he self-isolated, the former Bulls player made his debut when he was introduced off the bench for the final 20 minutes of the Champions Cup opener away to Clermont Auvergne from which Ulster emerged 29-23 winners.

"The first few weeks were really challenging and I'm still finding my feet and looking forward to getting to know Belfast," explained Vermeulen, who took part in just one training session with his new team-mates before making his competitive bow.

"After that one training session I sensed a great vibe and that there is massive energy in this squad. That was something new that I haven't really experienced before, the way the squad pitched up for their first European game of the season.

"It's something I like. I will keep soaking it up and learn much and hopefully within a couple of weeks I can contribute a lot more.

Duane VermeulenVermeulen (centre) made his Ulster debut as a replacement against Clermont Auvergne on 11 December

"It [Clermont] is a really difficult place to win - I've played there for Toulon and we won once in the four or five games we played there. There is always a massive crowd and a big noise.

"Playing at Kingspan in the win over Northampton was fantastic too - running out with the crowd behind you, the atmosphere before and after the game. I really enjoyed it all.

"We just have to sharpen up on a few little things and then we feel that we are pretty much there."

'Next World Cup with Springboks my marker'

Despite agreeing a deal to play for Ulster until 2023, the 2019 World Cup final player-of-the-match wants to remain part of the South Africa squad, having been part of the group for the Springboks' autumn international matches.

"I always said if things didn't work out contractually in South Africa then I'd go to play abroad.

"The Ulster offer came up and I thought 'maybe doing this might be good for my rugby'. You can always learn and maybe a change of scenery and environment will do me good.

"I chatted to my wife and we decided on doing that.

"I still want to play for the Springboks as well. So if I can push towards the next World Cup as well, that's my marker. That's a big thing.

"If I can play and contribute I want to keep going as long as I can."

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