One South African-born player was included in Warren Gatland’s 36-man British & Irish Lions squad for the upcoming tour. Here’s a roadmap of how he worked his way into contention for selection.
The 25-year-old Duhan van der Merwe, younger brother of Springbok hooker Akker, will return to his native country to potentially front the Boks.
The utility back had previously played for Tuks and the Blue Bulls before a lack of game time prompted a move to Montpellier in 2016. But his first season at the French club was injury-prone and led to more limited game time for Van der Merwe. A year later, he signed for Edinburgh and there Van der Merwe’s career took flight.
After three consistent seasons in the Scottish capitol, Van der Merwe qualified for Scotland through the residency law and has been on a upward trajectory since.
Since making his debut against Georgia last October, Van der Merwe has won 10 Test caps and scored eight tries.
After an enthralling 2021 Six Nations campaign, Van der Merwe was the best performing backline player, having beat a tournament-record 31 defenders and finishing as the Championship’s top try-scorer with five in his debut Six Nations campaign, despite facing stiff competition from the likes of Rees-Zammit and England’s Anthony Watson (both on four).
It did not take long for Van der Merwe to introduce himself to the championship, having already crossed the tryline three times for Scotland during last year’s Autumn Nations Cup.
Here is a summary of Van der Merwe’s overall performance in the 2021 Six Nations, taking his international tally to eight tries in 10 Tests.
DREAM CHAMPIONSHIP START
The Edinburgh wing scored the only try of the game in the 29th minute as Scotland stunned defending champions England and ended their 38-year wait for a victory at Twickenham.
Van der Merwe demonstrated his raw strength as he muscled his way through three tacklers to dot down in the corner from 10 metres out, following a slick passing move.
He proved a constant menace to the England defence right up until the final whistle, carrying seven times for 39 metres, as Scotland prevailed 11-6 to clinch the Calcutta Cup.
The famous win was Scotland’s first on the road at Rugby HQ since 1983 but while Van der Merwe played an integral role to the triumph, he was only just getting started.
DOUBLE TROUBLE AGAINST ITALY
While his name was missing from the scoresheet in the 25-24 round-two defeat by Wales, Van der Merwe continued to fire as he racked up 103m from 10 carries.
He registered similar stats against Ireland, finishing just shy of 100m from another 10 carries as Scotland returned to championship action with another narrow loss in round four, 27-24.
But just as Scotland’s campaign showed signs of faltering, Van der Merwe produced a show-stopping display on Super Saturday as he scored twice in a 52-10 win over Italy.
His first try came in the 13th minute following a scything break from Huw Jones before the ball was recycled to Van der Merwe, who stepped on the gas to score in the corner.
He repaid the favour to Jones before the half-hour mark with his own blockbuster surge, which allowed Stuart Hogg to flick the ball to the centre to run in unopposed under the posts.
And he capped a brilliant individual performance in the 70th minute by finishing a quick counter-attacking move, which turned Scotland defence into attack from their own 22.
HISTORIC BRACE IN PARIS
Scotland were due to meet France for their round-three encounter in February, but the game was rescheduled for after Super Saturday due to a Covid-19 outbreak in the Les Bleus camp.
With the hosts still in contention for this year’s title, much of the buildup was dominated by speculation over whether Fabien Galthie’s side could spoil Wales’ party.
But the visitors had their own script in mind and thanks to another Van der Merwe double, Scotland claimed their first away win in France since the 1999 Championship.
He showed his variety with the opening try of the match, burrowing over the line from a metre out on 14 minutes after a well-executed lineout move piled pressure on the hosts.
France gradually worked their way back into the contest, though, and led 23-20 with 15 minutes to go before Van der Merwe entered centre stage once again.
The clock went red as Scotland bore down on the France tryline and after several phases, the ball was fired out to the wing, who stepped inside to complete a memorable 27-23 win.
835 men have worn the red jersey…
On 34 previous Tours…
Representing four nations & millions in the #SeaOfRed…
37 more will aim to add to that legacy…
— British & Irish Lions (@lionsofficial) May 6, 2021
Photo: Getty Images