Duhan van der Merwe has opened up about his rocky career path in Europe, where he went from injury-prone struggler at Montpellier to star performer and Scotland hopeful at Edinburgh. MARIETTE ADAMS reports.
Originally from George in the Western Cape, Van der Merwe moved to the Vodacom Blue Bulls academy in 2014 following the completion of his high school career. Two years later and he agreed terms to join French giants Montpellier on a lucrative deal.
However, once there, Van der Merwe quickly learned that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. He struggled to adapt to his new surroundings, including the unique French culture and lifestyle, while the language barrier was also too big a challenge to overcome.
All those obstacles and a recurring hip injury resulted in him getting little game time, and ultimately player and club parted by mutual consent. His departure opened the door for him head to Edinburgh, a club so invested in him as player that he was put on their books despite failing his medical test shortly after arriving in the Scottish capital.
‘It’s obviously difficult to compare the clubs as each one is different in culture and playing style. Each of them are very strong clubs in their own right,’ he said. ‘But being backed so completely by the coaching staff at Edinburgh has increased my confidence in my abilities.’
With a whopping 31 tries for Edinburgh since joining in 2017, Van der Merwe has emerged as one of the best wings in Europe at the moment and has become somewhat of a cult hero among the supporters, while his growth his stature and his consistency in performance have also put him firmly in the conversation for Scottish selection.
Scotland coach Gregor Townsend has admitted the 25-year-old is not just on his radar, but definitely in his plans for the national team.
When probed about his prospective Test career, Van der Merwe – who qualifies for Scotland on the three-year residency rule – says he his ready for the step up to international rugby because it’s something he has worked towards his entire life.
‘It feels good to be appreciated and acknowledged for all the hard work that I have put in through the years,’ I am really just enjoying playing at the level that I am at, against great players like Keith Earls [Munster and Ireland wing] who I really admire. I try to give my best week in and week out and I always appreciate the support of the Scottish fans.’
Van der Merwe was primed to make his Scotland debut against the Springboks during the mid-year Test window, but unfortunately his season, much like every other athlete in the world, came to an abrupt end due to the global coronavirus crisis. But for him in particular the unwelcome stoppage could come at a greater cost than for anyone else.
The South African revealed that he secretly harboured hopes of sneaking through the back into the British & Irish Lions squad next year for their highly anticipated tour to his native country. But with his Scotland debut delayed and the continued uncertainty surrounding the 2020 international season, Van der Merwe feels his slender, outside chance of making the elite team has vanished.
‘If given the opportunity, I would definitely want to play for the British & Irish Lions. I think it is the biggest honour you can achieve in world rugby. However, it’s unlikely as time isn’t really on my side with the whole Covid-19 pandemic situation,’ he rued.
Whatever the future holds for him, Van der Merwe is clearly not short of ambition and drive. And what appeared to be Montpellier’s loss, is now Edinburgh and Scotland’s gain.
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