Despite the optimism that existed in Ulster following the signings of Charles Piutau and Marcell Coetzee last summer, their season has so far not gone to plan.
Although the Irish province can still qualify from their European Rugby Champions Cup pool, they must attain at least nine points from their remaining two games against the Exeter Chiefs and Bordeaux Begles to have any chance of doing so.
Indeed, Ulster’s Pro12 campaign has also yet to really catch fire. Although Les Kiss’ side have a game in hand over the fourth placed Glasgow Warriors, Ulster find themselves in sixth eight points behind the Scottish side.
Despite playing some brilliant running rugby and scoring some sublime tries, Ulster have at times been overpowered by teams upfront, with their defeats against Munster, Leinster and Clermont particularly standing out in this regard.
This can in part be attributed to the unavailability of Coetzee, who has yet to make his debut for the province after being ruled out for nine months with an ACL injury while playing for the Sharks last year.
However, just as Ulster fans begin to count down to Coetzee’s anticipated debut in February, news has emerged of Franco van der Merwe’s possible departure next summer.
Wales Online have reported that the Cardiff Blues are interested in bringing the South African to the Arms Park next season, after missing out on Luke Charteris and Bradley Davies in recent months.
If van der Merwe does in fact leave the Kingspan Stadium at the end of the season, his loss will come as blow to the province. The 6ft 6ins second row has been ever present in the Ulster team since joining in 2014, making the Pro12’s dream team following his first season in Belfast.
Alan Drumm, Pundit Arena