The untimely and unfortunate knee injury to George North could result in a British & Irish Lions berth for South African-born wing Duhan van der Merwe.
North was one of few players nailed on for Lions selection, but he suffered a serious knee injury while playing for the Ospreys in the PRO14 Rainbow Cup this past Saturday.
After undergoing scans on his knee on Monday, North confirmed on social media that he has ruptured his anterior-cruciate ligament and will have to undergo surgery next week.
This will inevitably rule him out of selection for the Lions series against the Springboks, which gets under way in July. While it is an unfortunate and cruel blow for North, his absence could likely pave the way for Van der Merwe’s inclusion in the 36-man squad if coach Warren Gatland opts for a like-for-like replacement.
Van der Merwe has been one of the best wings in world rugby since his debut for Scotland last year. The standout backline player in the recently concluded 2021 Six Nations campaign, he beat a tournament- record 31 defenders surpassing a 21-year-old Six Nations record set by legendary Irishman Brian O’Driscoll, who beat 30 defenders in 2000.
The 25-year-old also finished 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) and made the second-most linebreaks.
While Gatland has various home-grown options available to him to plug the gap left by North, none of them boast the same physical attributes and versatility. Among the contenders, Van der Merwe is the only one who closely possesses the same power game.
In the Six Nations, Van der Merwe was at his most destructive when he came in off his way to take up the role of first receiver to get his team well over the gainline from first phase.
Van der Merwe’s versatility in terms of his unique skill set and his ability to play wing, fullback and centre make him the perfect utility back option for the Lions. Only time will tell whether Gatland will call on him for Lions duty when the squad is announced next Thursday.
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