Maties wing Edwill van der Merwe has set his sights on a potential Vodacom Super Rugby debut after a flying start to the Varsity Cup. DYLAN JACK reports.
The speedster has scored five tries in five games for the Stellenbosch team in 2019, including a hat-trick against old foes NWU on Monday night.
The second of those three tries took Van der Merwe to the top of the Varsity Cup try-scoring list and he proceeded to set a new record. He currently sits on 22 tries overall ahead of injured teammate Duncan Saal, who is on 20.
‘I actually did not know about the record,’ Van der Merwe told SARugbymag.co.za. ‘I only found out after the match. I’m really happy about it, but I must say that it is always a team effort. Sometimes I’m just at the right place at the right time to finish everything off.’
The 22-year-old made eight appearances for John Dobson’s Western Province team in the 2018 Rugby Challenge, scoring three tries as they progressed to the playoffs before being knocked out by Free State in the quarter-finals.
However, Van der Merwe’s ambitions extend beyond the Rugby Challenge, as he admits he would like to play at a higher level before the year is done.
‘My goals for after I finish the Varsity Cup season is to make my Super Rugby debut and play in the Currie Cup,’ he says. ‘That is what I am focusing on this year.
‘I did talk to the Western Province coaches in pre-season, but I have not had a lot of contact with them since I have been playing in the Varsity Cup. After the season finishes, I will slot in again at Western Province and take it from there.’
This year has also brought a new role for Van der Merwe, since he started the first three games of the season at fullback before shifting back to his regular position out wide in teammate Saal’s absence.
‘It has been really nice to get a bit of experience at fullback. Coach Hawies [Fourie] has given me a lot of freedom to just express myself. I enjoy playing both fullback and wing.’
Van der Merwe attributed the Maroon Machine’s excellent record this year to the systems that have been implemented at the university, echoing his coach by saying that the team has left its title-winning 2018 season in the past.
‘It’s just a big all-round squad effort. Everyone buys into the system, and we have great coaches who implement a good game plan. Everyone buys into that so we can execute on the day.
‘We [the leadership group] can give a bit of guidance to the younger guys coming in. We have a good balance between senior guys and new guys, which gives us a nice balance between experience and that youthful excitement to play.
‘From the beginning, we said that we are not going to focus on last season, because it is done. We are going to start over and not defend the title, but rather go with the mentality of attacking the championship again.’
While Maties have virtually guaranteed themselves a place in the playoffs by seeing off two title rivals in Tuks and NWU, Van der Merwe says the team is staying guarded with potential banana peels against UWC and UJ to come.
‘That win [against NWU] gives us a lot of confidence, but we still have to take each week as it comes. Next week we will be focusing on our next opponent and keep taking it week by week.
‘As a team we always say that there are no easy games in the Varsity Cup. We will prepare for each match to the best of our ability and go out there and execute. We never underestimate our opponents. We aim to play according to our standards and what we want to achieve in the match.’
Van der Merwe, who grew up in the small town of Kylemore outside Stellenbosch, has enjoyed his career so far, which included representing the Junior Springboks at the 2016 World Rugby U20 Championship in Manchester.
‘It’s always a privilege to represent your country. At the end of the tournament, I was in the dream team for the backline. That, especially, was a really nice achievement for me.
‘From a young age, rugby has been a love for me. I come from a very small community just outside of Stellenbosch. Everyone loves rugby there, including my family. My parents have supported me from a young age. So it is basically what I enjoy doing. Hopefully, I can pursue rugby professionally after the Varsity Cup.’
Photo: Thys Lombard/Varsity Sports