He may not get a dream return to the land of his birth – South Africa – this summer but the newly Scottish-qualified Edinburgh wing Duhan van der Merwe is a man head coach Gregor Townsend sees as having a big future in the dark blue jersey.
The powerful and pacy 24-year-old from the Western Cape has been one of the standout performers for a Scottish pro-team over the past year or so and Townsend is excited about what he can bring to the national team in due course.
“Very much so,” said Townsend in a Zoom conference with the press yesterday. “I have spoken with Duhan and various points this season and in the last couple of weeks.
“We obviously see him as someone who would have been in the mix for the summer tour. That is unlikely to go ahead but we will keep watching how he plays for Edinburgh.
“He is an excellent player. He has shown this season a different level of play as well. His work off the ball has been excellent and his defence has been up there as well.
“He is quick, he’s strong, he makes a lot of line breaks and tackle breaks and he is a young player who will get better the more he plays.
“It is a position where we have competition. Sean Maitland and Blair Kinghorn did very well for us this year. Darcy Graham missed out due to injury but we’ve got Kyle Steyn and Ratu Tagive and Byron McGuigan. With Tommy Seymour retiring from international rugby, Duhan can certainly be in the mix for our next international.”
Van der Merwe qualifies on the old three-year residency rule, which has since been upped to five years after he joined the capital club in the summer of 2017.
Later in the year, two other South Africans, Glasgow prop Oli Kebble and Edinburgh stand-off Jaco van der Walt will also become eligible and Townsend, inset, said they, too ,would be considered.
“Oli is October and Jaco is the middle of November,” explained Townsend. “Those [along with Van Der Merwe] are three players we know are going to be eligible later this year and they are playing very well for their clubs. Oli has been a regular in the team at Glasgow and Jaco will be competing hard for a place at 10 and they are three players who will add to our depth and are three players that could certainly play international rugby.”
For now, Townsend is trying to use lockdown to review, study and keep in touch with his furloughed players as much as is possible and appropriate.
“I think we as coaches say to ourselves, let’s make sure we’re not talking about rugby, more about what they’re doing, what they’re thinking long-term, what they’re struggling with and any players that you get a sense they need more connection you try to follow that up,” said the coach.
“There are players who are keen to keep learning about rugby, and so there’s two or three players we’ve pointed in the right direction to speak to Coach X. While you’re making sure you’re not to coach players and talk about rugby some players are coming to us with the ambition to improve and now’s the opportunity when you don’t have a team training to improve you, to look at your own clips or other players throughout the world. But that isn’t the priority right now.”
Always a glass-half-full character, Townsend believes the current situation, while painful and traumatic, could be a catalyst for the much-talked about and needed reshaping of the unsatisfactory global rugby calendar.
“Yes. I’m more of an optimist on all these things,” he said. “The tough thing will be the financial hit that every industry and every sport is going to face and what that means for future planning.
“The exciting thing is you’re seeing more collaboration around potential competition which could mean that we have a much more competitive November/October window, summer rugby, and all these things are getting discussed just now. It’s great that everybody is part of that conversation about how we come out stronger.
“What we want to ensure is that the sport builds on the recent successes of World Cups and Six Nations – a real growth sport – and if we can align it more with a global season I think that will be a good thing for rugby.”
Townsend has been using lockdown to enjoy online chats with fellow coaches from other sports, including Belgium football manager Roberto Martinez and his Scots assistant Shaun Maloney, as well as some more surprising sources. “Probably the most interesting one because it was different was with the Red Arrows,” said Townsend. “Their leader and another member of the crew talked about what they do in training, how they debrief train, and that was fascinating.
“They have a process that has worked for over 50 years. If they get something wrong it could mean life or death so they have to make sure in the review sessions of the detail and collaboration of the group. Their performance is a lot about people following exact routines.”
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