Currie Cup

Marcel van der Merwe not returning to Loftus in rare Bulls signing misfire

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Bulls prop Marcel van der Merwe (Gallo Images)
Bulls prop Marcel van der Merwe (Gallo Images)
Anton Geyser
  • Marcel van der Merwe will not be returning to the Bulls after his stint as a "medical joker" for La Rochelle in the French Top14.
  • The 30-year-old Springbok prop, one of Jake White's high-profile signings last year, struggled to settle at Loftus and is now slated to join London Irish.
  • His lukewarm form became a real headache once Mornay Smith emerged as a real find for the Bulls.

The chapter on one of Jake White's rare failed signings has been closed.

Sport24 can confirm that Marcel van der Merwe will not be returning to the Bulls for the Currie Cup and United Rugby Championship campaigns.

The 30-year-old, seven-cap Springbok tighthead was unveiled as one of White's marquee recruitments last year, a serious statement of intent, but he failed to settle at Loftus and has parted ways with the franchise.

It's understood that Van der Merwe is joining London Irish in the English Premiership after missing the Rainbow Cup to take up an offer from French club La Rochelle to be a so-called medical joker back in mid-April.

He's only started one match for the club in the Top14.

Van der Merwe had been signed while still being stuck in the USA due to lockdown restrictions, having received specialist treatment for a long-term ankle problem.

Once fit, he grappled with certain technical aspects, particularly at scrum-time, and his cause was complicated by the continued class of Trevor Nyakane and the underrated Jacques van Rooyen grabbing his opportunity.

That meant Van der Merwe never truly got a sequence of matches going.

The preparation series also saw Mornay Smith emerge as one of the brightest home-grown products in the Bulls' system, which arguably made White more comfortable letting Van der Merwe regain some confidence in France, where the front rower enjoyed success previously with Toulon.

To his credit, White continually backed the player once questions over Van der Merwe's lukewarm form started to be asked in public forums, noting how he had a reputation as one of the best scrummers in France.

But the former Springbok coach also admitted that he had to balance Van der Merwe's game-time with granting the improving Smith opportunities to grow further.

The answer to that conundrum has now been found. 

Meanwhile, White's latest high-profile signings - Johan Goosen, Jacques du Plessis and Harold Vorster - are all expected to fall in by next month.

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