How Duhan van der Merwe slipped through the Springbok cracks
SPOTLIGHT: Duhan van der Merwe is a British and Irish Lions player who is set to attract plenty of focus on this year’s tour to South Africa.
The South African-born Scotland recruit heading back to play in his homeland for the first time since he left the Bulls in 2016 and embarked on an adventure that took him to Edinburgh via a one-year Montpellier pit stop.
The soon-to-be 26-year-old became Scottish-eligible last year under the three-year residency rule and he went on to enjoy a stellar first season under Gregor Townsend, playing in all ten of Scotland’s matches, starting nine and scoring eight tries – a tremendously impressive strike rate that caught the attention of Warren Gatland.
Van der Merwe will soon become a Worcester Warriors player, former Springboks assistant Alan Solomons tempting him to enlist for a stint in the Gallagher Premiership, and he will head to England fresh from participating in a B&I Lions tour that could leave the Springboks to rue him as one that got away.
It was 2014 when van der Merwe had the ear of South African officials, the wing being a replacement in the Junior Springboks side defeated by a point in the Under-20 World Cup Final in Auckland by an England side that featured current Test team talisman Maro Itoje – along with Nick Tompkins and Billy Burns, who has since been respectively capped by Wales and Ireland.
In time, van der Merwe would also switch allegiance and his imminent return to South Africa to take on his native country was a talking point willingly embraced by Rassie Erasmus, South Africa’s Director of Rugby.
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“Jacques [Nienaber, Boks head coach] was the high-performance manager at SA Rugby and he was helping all the teams and the Junior Springboks fell under him.
“He [van der Merwe] was in the Handre Pollard team that played in New Zealand and lost in the Final, so we know him pretty well.
“I remember sitting with him and his dad in the office discussing his future in Sevens and I remember him having trials at the Sevens.
“He played SA schools, SA U20 and I remember sitting with his dad in the office and getting him into the Sevens set-up and remember him trialling with the Sevens.
“Not sure why he didn’t make that or what his decision was after that or did he want to go into the 15-a-side game?
“He has come the full path in SA Rugby and we are not at all in the mindset of because he is not playing here, he doesn’t deserve to play anywhere else.
“We feel that if a guy goes over there, like CJ Stander or whoever, good for him.
“The way he [van der Merwe] has played nobody can argue, and it’s weird in a way – we are proud of him but when we play against him it is going to be tough. We are happy for him.
“We know him really well and he would obviously know most of our guys fairly well.”
By Liam Heagney, RugbyPass