CAPE TOWN – Duhan van der Merwe has already twice thought of quitting rugby – and now he is in the British and Irish Lions squad that will tour his native South Africa.
In a video on the official Lions social media channels posted on Wednesday night, the 26-year-old powerhouse Scotland wing spoke about his journey from battling to make it in South Africa as a youngster to being given an opportunity at Edinburgh – and the rest is history.
Van der Merwe, younger brother of Springbok hooker Akker, is from George in the Western Cape and was a schoolboy star at Outeniqua High School.
In fact, Springbok assistant coach Deon Davids spoke on Wednesday of how he had watched the blond-haired wing at the time, and that he was selected for SA Schools – before injuries hampered his progress at the Blue Bulls between 2014 and 2015.
“In the back garden with my brother back in South Africa was my first taste of rugby. And then obviously I played rugby in school, and then went to the Bulls after school. Things didn’t work out as I probably wanted it to… I decided to leave. Went to Montpellier, and then I went to Edinburgh, and that’s where my career actually started,” Van der Merwe said.
But he has certainly repaid the faith for club and country, having scored eight tries in 10 Tests.
“Coming over as a young boy to the UK, trying to start my rugby career all over again, because things didn’t go well for me back home… And then failing a medical, I was like right, where to now? That’s me probably done,” Van der Merwe said.
“Got a lifeline from Edinburgh, and loved it ever since here. I’ve enjoyed playing for Edinburgh, and after three years, I knew I would qualify. Luckily I was playing some decent rugby, and I got a call-up from Scotland.
This is @duhanvdmerwe‘s rugby journey.
From playing rugby in the garden with his brother, to becoming a professional, facing setbacks and moving to Scotland.
And now he's on a British & Irish Lions Tour 👌
— British & Irish Lions (@lionsofficial) June 23, 2021
“I love the environment we have in the Scotland camp. I got on with the boys really quick. And then yeah, sitting here after my first Six Nations, I wouldn’t ever have thought that I’d have the opportunity of sitting here (in the Lions squad). It’s just been some year for me, to be honest.”
He also praised his brother Akker for inspiring him during his school years. “My brother plays for Sale and at the age of 15, I wanted to give up on rugby and play a different sport. He got me into the gym and on the field, doing extras and stuff,” Duhan said.
“He always believed in me. Even when things weren’t going that well after school, he backed me to make the move to come abroad and play, and ever since, I will always look up to him for always backing me.”
Van der Merwe will make his Lions debut on Saturday in a Test against Japan at Murrayfield, where he would want to impress coach Warren Gatland in order to force his way into the mix for the three-Test series against the Springboks.
Just the mere fact that he is in the squad is still surreal for the big man, who is 1.93m and 106kg.
“I was back home with the missus, because if you’re not involved, the guys say to you ‘You should’ve been involved’. And I was just like, whatever way it goes, I just want to take that in for myself and just say, you know what, it is what it is,” Van der Merwe said.
“Yeah, luckily my name got announced and I was just buzzing, to be honest. I’ve never felt anything like that before. I’m not normally an emotional person, but a lot of tears… and it was just a really emotional day for me and the family. So, that’s a day I’ll never forget, to be honest.
“For us back home, as a youngster, we always say it’s the highest of highs – you can’t achieve any higher than that. I mean, like I said, being involved in the squad is just so special for me. I would’ve never thought that I’d be involved in a British and Irish Lions squad. It’s just so special.”