Duane Vermeulen is helping his Ulster teammates “get over” their Champions Cup disappointment to beat Munster and push the South African teams out of Vodacom United Rugby Championship playoff contention.
The competition for top-two and top-four places in the URC is intense, and Friday night’s Irish derby between hosts Ulster and Munster in Belfast could have the loser dropping out of the top four.
Ulster are second, level with Glasgow Warriors on 50 points but ahead on points differential, and Munster are fourth. Ulster have 50 points, Munster 47, as do the Stormers.
A Stormers win over Glasgow in Cape Town on Friday will propel them into second, at least for the few hours before the conclusion of the Belfast game. Should Ulster win, they will go back to second but, if they lose, then the bonus-point spread for the two games might end up determining which of Munster or the Stormers are second.
The Sharks, just one point behind the Stormers and scheduled to play Leinster in Durban on Saturday, could also find themselves propelled to second on the log by the end of the weekend.
The Ulster vs Munster clash has been given added significance by the round-of-16 Champions Cup results this past weekend, with the ante being lifted for an Ulster team that has now been left with the URC as the sole focus following an agonising exit to Toulouse.
Over the two legs, meaning 160 minutes of rugby, there was just one point separating the two teams (50/49), and it has prompted inevitable concerns about a possible hangover at Ulster ahead of the derby.
“When we look at the loss, for us, it is with incredible frustration rather than in previous years where we have looked at it and went ‘We were well beaten out there’ or ‘They were able to run away with it’,” Ulster skipper Iain Henderson told media after the second-leg game, won 30-23 by Toulouse in Belfast.
“Duane [Vermeulen] had a good chat with us after the game and said a loss like that some guys will get over it in 15 minutes, some guys will get over it in a week, and for some guys it will be longer. There is no right or wrong way to look at that.
“We have to rally around each other and make sure everyone is supporting each other and make sure we are physically and emotionally ready to go next weekend. It is difficult to throw yourself straight back into it, but it will be a focus of ours with a huge emphasis on the next two games.
“Those next two games are going to be instrumental in defining how we finish the season, so we have to make sure we can show ourselves, the staff, and everyone else that we are able to bounce back and put in a good performance on the back of an emotional loss.”
The other overseas URC games that have significance for the SA contenders are seventh-placed Edinburgh’s clash with Zebre, and ninth-placed Scarlets’ trip to the Dragons on Saturday. Both Edinburgh and Scarlets could have a say on which teams qualify for both the playoffs and next year’s Champions Cup, so the South Africans will be willing them to lose.