South African second row Franco van der Merwe has embraced his new surroundings since making the move to London Irish in the summer.

With a baby boy on the way with wife Mart and a love for the outdoors, the 34-year-old is enjoying a new lease of life in England.

Snapped up by Nick Kennedy as part of his recruitment drive ahead of the Exiles’ return to the Aviva Premiership, van der Merwe has been living in a traditional English cottage in the Surrey sticks.

Admitting to being a country bumpkin at heart with a beaming smile, the towering lock has lots to look forward to in the coming months. 

“My daughter Isabella has just had her first birthday and we are expecting a baby boy around Christmas time, which is very exciting,” said the former Springbok international.

“I’m looking forward to being at the birth and it will be nice to welcome our first Englishman into the family!

“Ever since we moved here as a family in the summer, I have been drawn to how beautiful the area is and I’ve fallen in love with the countryside here.”

Playing in all of his side’s Aviva Premiership fixtures so far, van der Merwe says that there is a real sense of optimism in and around the camp as the Exiles look to move up the table. 

“Coming up from the Championship, we knew that this season was going to be a challenge and we’ve performed reasonably well, most notably the opening day victory over Harlequins,” said the ex-Super Rugby player.

“As well as the win over Quins, we’ve picked up a bonus point against Leicester Tigers, Bath and Wasps and we must continue to pick up points as we reach the midway point of the season.

“In my opinion, the Aviva Premiership is the toughest domestic competition in Europe and you will be punished for any error that you make. 

“I think the most important thing that the management team did from the outset this season was to make it clear that we are building something special for the future.

“We’re trying incredibly hard to win every single game that we play and I can see the ambitious plans that the coaches are striving to put in place.

“I’m very happy to be part of London Irish’s journey and I’m proud to wear the green jersey.”

London Irish play Newcastle Falcons this Saturday, 30 December (kick-off 3pm). The game will see London Irish's biggest crowd of the season so far with over 9,000 people set to be at the Madejski Stadium on Saturday.

Tickets start from £3 for under 13s and £23 for adults. Tickets are available from or by calling 0118 968 1016 (Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm and Saturday 9am to noon).

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