Franco replaces Johann at Ulster
One-time Springbok Franco van der Merwe has already played his last game for the Lions.
Golden Lions Rugby Union CEO Manie Booysen confirmed to this website that they have released the veteran lock, who will join up with Irish province Ulster later this year.
The 31-year-old is a direct replacement for another Bok, Johann Muller, who announced his retirement from the game recently.
Booysen said Van der Merwe, who is sidelined for the rest of the season with an ankle injury he suffered against the Reds last month, told his Lions teammates at lunchtime on Thursday that he is leaving at the completion of the Super Rugby competition.
"It has been coming since the end of last year, that he has been on their [Ulster's] wishlist," Booysen told rugby365.
The Lions boss it was not an easy decision.
"We considered a scenario where he would go to go away after the Super Rugby season and then return next year," the CEO said, adding: "However, after consideration, we decided that after years of loyal service to let him go.
"It [the Ulster offer] is an opportunity that does not come along every day. We hope he will return to our structures one day."
Van der Merwe's loyalty is epitomised in the fact that, after undergoing ankle surgery, he recently returned – on his crutches – to help out the Lions Under-19 team with their line-out sessions.
Van der Merwe, who played 80-odd Super Rugby matches for the Lions and 16 while on loan to the Sharks last year, earned his one and only Test cap against the All Blacks at Ellis Park last year.
He will replace Muller, a 24-Test veteran with 82 matches for the Sharks and 70-odd for Ulster.
* Meanwhile Lions coach Johan Ackermann named a versatile 27-man squad for the team's tour of Australasia.
The Lions depart on Friday to play matches against Chiefs in Hamilton (May 3), the Highlanders (Dunedin, May 10), the Waratahs (Sydney, May 18) and the Western Force (Perth, May 24).
In the forwards Ruan Dreyer, Corne Fourie, Julian Redelinghuys, Schalk van der Merwe and Jacques van Rooyen will cover the prop positions.
Robbie Coetzee and new recruit Armand van der Merwe will cover hooker, while Luvuyiso Lusaseni, Rudi Matthee, Franco Mostert and Martin Muller have been drafted in as locks.
In the loose forward positions Willie Britz, Jaco Kriel, Derick Minnie and Warwick Tecklenburg have earned selection. Warren Whiteley will also continue to captain the side on tour.
Meanwhile, in the backline, scrumhalves Ross Cronje and Francois de Klerk have cracked the nod for the touring squad.
Utility backs included in the group are Marnitz Boshoff (flyhalf/fullback), Chrysander Botha (fullback/wing), Jacobus Jonker (centre/wing), Lionel Mapoe (centre/wing), Courtnall Skosan (wing/centre) and Deon van Rensburg (wing/centre).
Specialist flyhalf Elton Jantjies has earned selection, while wing Anthony Volmink has also booked his space in the squad.
Stefan Watermeyer will cover the midfield as a specialist centre.
Booysen said is confident they will do the Lions brand proud while abroad.
"It is important to keep looking ahead and moving forward," Booysen said, adding: "Myself and [GLRU President] Kevin de Klerk are confident this touring squad will put in solid performances while overseas.
"The players and management have the full support of the Union and we are looking forward to seeing them excel on this trip."
Lions tour squad: Marnitz Boshoff, Chrysander Botha, Willie Britz, Robbie Coetzee, Ross Cronje, Francois de Klerk, Ruan Dreyer, Corne Fourie, Elton Jantjies, JW Jonker, Jaco Kriel, Luvuyiso Lusaseni, Lionel Mapoe, Rudi Matthee, Derick Minnie, Franco Mostert,
Martin Muller, Julian Redelinghuys, Courtnall Skosan, Warwick Tecklenburg, Armand van der Merwe, Schalk van der Merwe, Deon van Rensburg, Jacques van Rooyen, Anthony Volmink, Stefan Watermeyer, Warren Whiteley (captain).
By Jan de Koning