Duhan van der Merwe: If you told me I’d play for Scotland at a World Cup I'd have laughed at you

Duhan van der Merwe will be one of Scotland's key attacking weapons at the Rugby World Cup. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)Duhan van der Merwe will be one of Scotland's key attacking weapons at the Rugby World Cup. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
Duhan van der Merwe will be one of Scotland's key attacking weapons at the Rugby World Cup. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
Duhan van der Merwe admits he could never have envisaged a rise to prominence that means he is going to his first Rugby World Cup as a talismanic figure within a Scotland backline loaded with “X factor”.

The 28-year-old South-Africa-born wing was relatively unheralded when he first joined Edinburgh in 2017 following an underwhelming year in France with Montpellier.

But his career has taken off emphatically since then. After impressing in the Scottish capital, and following three years of residency in Scotland, the swashbuckling back earned an international debut for Gregor Townsend’s team against Georgia in October 2020, who return to Murrayfield this Saturday for a pre-World Cup warm-up match.

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Van der Merwe – who had a stint at Worcester before returning to Edinburgh almost a year ago – was part of the 2021 British and Irish Lions squad, is seventh on Scotland’s all-time try-scoring list, and is cast as one of the most exciting wings on the planet as he heads to his first World Cup in France at the start of next month.

“I’m absolutely buzzing,” he said, reflecting on the recent confirmation that he is in the World Cup squad. “It’s something I’ve been working towards over the last couple of years in the back of my head so getting the phone call from Gregor was really special for me and my family.

“If you’d told me about six years ago when I first joined Edinburgh that I’d be playing for Scotland and going to a World Cup, I’d probably laugh at you and say, ‘no chance’.

“I think a lot of it is down to coaches having belief in me and a lot of it is down to hard work and dedication to get where I am today. I was a pretty raw player when I first joined Edinburgh, so fair play to all the coaches throughout the years for helping me improve my skills and understand the game more. I’ll always be thankful to them.

“As a young player, I always strived to be the best player I could be. I always knew I was quick and strong but I never thought I’d be where I am today. I’m just absolutely buzzing.”

Van der Merwe is intent on showing in France, on the biggest stage of all, why his stock is so high, and he believes that opposing teams planning to stop any of the Scottish backs will have a problem.

“I absolutely love going up against the best of the best,” he said. “That’s where I can showcase what I can do. But most importantly, my number one job is just to do my best for Scotland and hopefully all the other bits will come.

“I guess teams and players analyse you as a player and that’s when it gets quite fun because you have to find ways of beating defenders, getting line-breaks and scoring tries. It just makes it more exciting for me.

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“But if teams want to focus on me, that potentially means there is space for someone else. I think with the players we have in this squad, you can’t just look at one, two or three players and just focus on them because throughout our backline everyone’s got X factor.”

Darcy Graham, Kyle Steyn, Finn Russell, Blair Kinghorn, Ben White, Huw Jones and Sione Tuipulotu are just some of the Scottish backs who have excelled in the lead-up to the World Cup.

“It’s absolutely brilliant to play with these guys,” said Van der Merwe. “Having Finn at 10 is always special. As a winger, you always think you’ll definitely score with him at 10.

“And then Blair at full-back, I’ve played with him at Edinburgh for years and he’s unbelievable, he’s got real X factor. Kyle Steyn, Ollie Smith, all these guys, the competition among the backs is really good at the moment.

“I wouldn’t say there’s anyone who is definitely going to start against South Africa because everyone is pushing for that starting jersey. I absolutely love that competition between us.”

The Scots, ranked fifth in the world, are in a top-heavy World Cup pool with Ireland and world champions South Africa, but Van der Merwe is adamant his team believe they can get through to the quarter-finals and beyond.

“Oh yes, 100 per cent,” he said. “If you want to be the best in the world, you have to beat the best in the world. What a challenge it is for us in our pool stage to go up against South Africa and Ireland and Tonga, who are a brilliant team as well.

“If we want to get to the quarter-finals we have to beat them. It’s a real test for us but I believe with the players we have in our squad we can beat any team on our day.”

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Asked how far away Scotland are from being viewed on the same level as the top teams in the world like Ireland and France, Van der Merwe, with no hesitation, said: “Really close, really close.

“We’ve showcased that against France (in Saint-Etienne earlier this month). We probably dropped off for five to 10 minutes and good teams will punish you when you drop off but that’s something we can work on.

“We’ve showcased what we can do as a team, coming from behind and almost beating France in France. We’ve got a very special group.”



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