Wing Duhan van der Merwe has thanked Edinburgh and head coach Richard Cockerill for showing faith in him and signing him in 2017 despite the fact the South African failed his medical.
After taking months to get on the pitch for his new club, the athletic and electric-paced flier from the Western Cape has been a revelation, scorching in for 28 tries in 53 appearances which, in quick time, takes him to fifth on Edinburgh’s all-time scorers list, behind only Tim Visser (69), Chris Paterson (57), Simon Webster (36) and Derrick Lee (32).
He signed a new contract with the capital pro team yesterday and Cockerill said: “When he came [from Montpellier], he was very young, very raw – and he was injured when he arrived. He needed hip surgery because he wasn’t fit to play.
“In fact, he didn’t pass his medical. So we had to put our faith in him. It has worked out well.”
Van der Merwe becomes Scotland qualified in June on the old three-year residency rule and will be eligible for the summer tour to his South African homeland and New Zealand in the summer.
The 24-year-old Van der Merwe said: “The club threw me a lifeline when I failed my medical. I’ve developed my career here at Edinburgh and I want to keep developing as a player so, at the end of the day, it was actually easy for me to decide to stay here.
“I didn’t have much from Montpellier, I got the option to come to Edinburgh so when I failed my medical, I was a bit concerned. I thought, ‘where to next, what now?’
“When I look back, it could have gone really badly. If I failed my medical and Cockers didn’t back me, that was probably me because I didn’t have many options back then. Who was going to fix my hip? Where was I going to get rehab and all of that? So I’m really grateful for backing me back then.
“The club looked after me really well. I love the boys, I love the club, my missus loves the city so I’m really happy to have re-signed.”
Van der Merwe reiterated his desire to one day play Test rugby for his new adopted homeland.
“Yes, it’s in the back of my head. I want to play international rugby and if the opportunity is there to play, I’d want to grab it with both hands and give it a shot and see where I’m at,” he said.
“That’d be really cool, playing against South Africa. If I get the opportunity, I’d love that.”
Cockerill, meanwhile, is satisfied with a gamble that paid off. “They’re always punts, up to a point. They’re great when they work,” said the coach, who is preparing his side for the weekend’s European Challenge Cup Pool 3 finale against French side Agen, when a quarter-final place can be wrapped up.
“Duhan has worked really hard and, in the past two-and-a-half years, we’ve built a robust environment. Hopefully it’s a sign that we’ve got a strong environment, the fact that he’s improved.
“He’s got a unique skill set, he’s very quick and finishes well. So I’m delighted that he’s re-signed, keeping our squad together and keep building what we’ve got here.
“He has pure pace, his footwork, his power, he’s scored tries from nothing.
“Having a player like him in your squad is important because he can make the difference, spark the game into life or turn the game in your favour. It’s important to keep those types of players.
“He’s keen to play international rugby and hopefully we’re giving him the platform to do that. He’s got a good character.
“It’s good from a union point of view, that a player comes and fails his medical – and we could have sent him straight back to France. Instead, we spent time, money and effort getting him fit. That’s a two-way effort.
“We’ve not got a massive budget, we’re not going to recruit another ten players to strengthen the squad. We have to get stronger by staying together and improving as a team.
“He’s put in a lot of time and effort, and that’s what you do. You go to club, get some minutes under your belt, come back into the training group and work hard.
“He’s worked for his chance and he’s loving it, always improving.”
Van der Merwe added: “I’ve worked really hard at my speed and strength and that’s something I want to keep on working on because my speed is everything for me.”