JOHANNESBURG – There’’s always one, isn’t there?
A former South African who has gone abroad, found his mojo, been recognised for his performances, gets the nod to represent his adopted nation, is then selected to play against his country of birth, and then also has the potential to rock that country to its core with invaluable displays.
This time it is Duhan van der Merwe, born on the mean streets of George in the Western Cape, that will represent the British and Irish Lions when they tour here in July and August. And all power to the Scottish international – he thoroughly deserves it. The brother of another much-beloved Lion no not thee Lions, but rather the Joburg ones – Akker, Duhan beat 31 defenders and finished the recently concluded Six Nations as the top try-scorer with six dot downs.
Like cricketers Kevin Pietersen, Grant Elliot and Marnus Labuschange (remember to pronounce it Labba-shane) and rugby players Clyde Rathbone, Brad Barrett, Dan Vickerman, Andrew Merthens, Mike Catt, CJ Stander and Pieter de Villiers before him,the 25-year-old Van der Merwe will have the opportunity to inflict some emotional and physical pain on his former countrymen. He might even do it against the Springboks … if he gets selected from amongst the wings Josh Adams and Louis Rees-Zammit of Wales (arguably the preferred pairing), and Anthony Watson of England.
Time will tell.
It will be Van der Merwe's first tour with the Lions – compared to the four of captain Alun Wyn Jones – and the Tuks alum is still quite inexperienced when it comes to the rigours of Test rugby. He has played only 10 Tests for Scotland – which will be nothing compared to playing for the Lions in South Africa against South Africa – so coach Warren Gatland might rather rely on his older heads to face the Boks. Instead, Van der Merwe could find himself playing the tour matches against the Stormers, the SA Invitational XV, the Sharks, SA ‘A', or/and the Bulls – his former youth team.
As much as his inclusion for the tour was truly wonderful, there were notable omissions that simply cannot be ignored.
England's Billy Vunipola misses out again after injury scuppered his 2017 participation in New Zealand; Irish captain Jonathan Sexton is a no show (also through injury); English prop Kyle Sinclair, who has
no recollection of the 2019 World Cup due to being concussed early on in the match, misses the cut; ; and perhaps most surprising of all 2017's Player of the Series as voted by the Lions' players, Jonathan Davies of Wales.
It is always tough to whittle down the player base of four nations into one 37-man squad, but those are some big-name players left out.
All that is left now is for SA Rugby director of rugby Rassie Erasmus and Bok coach Jacques Nienaber to select their team and with the Rainbow Cup in full swing, and with the return of key players from injury, an intriguing series awaits the world of rugby.
Glorious stuff …