“The one from Twickenham is just so special and it’s one I’ll never forget, to be honest,” he said. “That’s probably the best one I’ve ever scored in my life. I don’t think I’ll top it, but we’ll see!”
It’s a nice position to be in for the Scotland winger who finished the campaign with three tries in total, taking his overall tally to 17 in 28 Tests since qualifying for Scotland on residency grounds in 2020. His score against Italy had Gregor Townsend purring after the match, with the Scotland coach struggling to recall seeing a better finish. Van der Merwe was airborne outside the touchline by the West Stand as he somehow managed to ground the ball one-handed, benefiting from the law change which allows a player to hit the corner flag but remain in play. “It was a brilliant finish,” said Townsend.
The player himself said it was something he had been practising. “The coaches have been on my case for the last two and a half years, saying: ‘you need to start diving when you score' and I said ‘no no, I don’t do that!’. So yeah, it was quite surprising! The touchline was to my left, I knew I needed to dive, and I managed to score. So I’m happy. We’ve actually been practising it over the last eight weeks. So I think being in that position, having practised it, made it a lot easier when I was in the moment.”
Van der Merwe started and finished the Six Nations with a bang but he has set himself such high standards that he was disappointed with the way things tailed off against France and Ireland, the two sides who defeated Scotland and ultimately finished above them. A try double in the opener at Twickenham was followed by another big performance in the win over Wales but he saw far less of the ball in the next two games and looked defensively suspect against Ireland.
“Look, I started off well and then against France and Ireland it probably wasn’t my best, but if teams try and shut me off, I need to find ways of getting more involved and that’s something I’m focusing on, just to get my hands on the ball,” he said. “I’ve been working really hard on that and the coach is helping me out. So I managed to get a couple of carries in the first half [against Italy] which really just fills me with confidence.”
Van der Merwe will now return to club duties with Edinburgh and a reunion with Steve Diamond, his former boss at Worcester, who has joined the capital side as ‘lead rugby consultant’ and will work alongside head coach Mike Blair until the end of the season. “I’ve worked with him a bit at Worcester,” said the winger. “People think and say he’s like Cockers [ex-Edinburgh coach Richard Cockerill], but he’s not, he’s very chilled and relaxed and I got on with him really well, so I’m looking forward to seeing him on Monday.”