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Published: 16:29 | 27/1/16

Van der Merwe pens extension

Lock to remain with Ulster

Franco van der Merwe will remain with Ulster until the end of the 2017 campaign, having signed a contract at the Belfast-based outfit.

The South African lock, who joined Ulster at the beginning of last season, has started 15 of the province's 17 competitive fixtures so far this season, after captaining the side on several occasions as part of 26 appearances in the white and red in 2014-15.

"I'm really pleased to sign on for another year with Ulster," van der Merwe said after penning a one-year extension to his deal. "I've thoroughly enjoyed my time here and it was an easy decision for me and my family to take.

"We have felt very welcome from the moment we arrived, and that is down to everyone involved in Ulster Rugby - the players, the management team and the supporters.

"This season has been a bit of a transition with Les (Kiss) coming in, but I'm really excited to be part of that the squad's growth over the next 18 months.

"The challenge for us is to keep improving and pushing to achieve silverware, and I'm confident that we'll continue to develop our game under Les and the other coaches."

Van der Merwe, who has a single senior Springbok cap to his name, played in Super Rugby for the Lions and the Sharks prior to moving to Ireland.

"I have tried to bring some of my experience to the group and help some of the younger players," said the 32-year-old.

"It's been encouraging for me to see some young forwards come through and make their mark in Europe and in the PRO12, which augers well for a successful Ulster team in the future."

Kiss, Ulster's director of rugby, commented: "To have Franco stay for another season is a fantastic boost for Ulster.

"His professional approach and the standards that he sets have been integral to the development of the young players coming through, such as Kyle McCall, Alan O'Connor, John Donnan and Stephen Mulholland.

"He is also an excellent clubman, who contributes in such a positive way to the environment we are creating here. His durability is outstanding and his lineout expertise speaks for itself.

"Along with new signings Kieran Treadwell and Rodney Ah You, he will play an important role as we build and strengthen our forward pack for next season."

Ulster lie sixth on the Pro12 ladder, eight points behind leaders the Scarlets but holding a game in hand, while they will play no further European rugby this season, having missed out on a spot in the Champions Cup quarter-finals.

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