IT WAS a breathtaking try produced by an act of individual brilliance. It was good enough to be proclaimed as the try of this year’s Six Nations Championship. Good enough, too, to be announced as the International Men’s Try of the Year at World Rugby’s recent annual awards ceremony in Paris.
But the Scotland player responsible for the solo effort, which began in his own half and saw him evade or fend off half a dozen England players before touching down at Twickenham, thinks that good fortune was largely responsible for the score. “I look back at it and I still can’t quite believe that I managed to score that,” Duhan van der Merwe said on Monday after an Edinburgh training session.
“Everyone’s been saying, ‘Congrats, congrats’. All I can say is. ‘Yeah, mate, it’s all luck!’
“I’ll take it and I’m very happy with the award. If I can score one of those tries again, I’ll be really happy.”
The awards ceremony in the French capital took place the night after the Rugby World Cup final, by which time Van der Merwe and the rest of the Scotland squad had long since returned home. He could have flown back out to France, but chose not to, instead watching online as he was declared the winner from a shortlist of four.
“Yeah, it was exciting,” he continued. “Unfortunately I was not able to be there – I saw it online. I couldn’t go, because I just felt that the extra two to three days with my family was quite important – but at the same time I was obviously gutted I couldn’t go.”
Before the World Cup, Van der Merwe and Edinburgh team-mate Darcy Graham were pretty much neck and neck in the race to overhaul Stuart Hogg’s all-time record of 27 tries for Scotland. But at the end of the international year, and as attention begins to turn towards the 2024 Six Nations, the picture is now markedly different: having been left out of the squad that went on to beat Romania 84-0 at the World Cup, Van der Merwe now has some catching up to do.
“Gregor [Townsend, the Scotland coach] announced the team against Romania and my name was not in it. I just looked over and Darcy was sitting there with a smile on his face.
“I thought he could get four or five and he got four. He’s well ahead of me now. I’ll have to score a few now for Scotland if selected in the Six Nations to get ahead of him, but that’s going to be tough – what a player he is.”
Graham, who now has 24 tries to his rival’s 21, is not due back from injury for another couple of weeks. Van der Merwe, however, has settled in well again at Edinburgh after his post-World Cup break.
“To be honest, I was buzzing to come back,” he explained. “Initially, at the time when we lost against Ireland, I wasn’t in a great place and felt like I needed some time off. Physically, I felt very good; mentally, it was quite tough.
“I had a phone call with Sean [Everitt, Edinburgh’s senior coach] and said, ‘Look, is there any chance I can get some extra time off?’ and he managed to give me an extra week off. I’m very grateful for that and I feel really refreshed and ready to go for the season.”
After sitting out his team’s first two games of the URC season, Van der Merwe has started their defeat at Leinster and their home win last week against previously-unbeaten Connacht. He is now set to play in Edinburgh’s home game on Friday night against the Bulls – which could mean him coming up against older brother Akker. The South African side are top of the URC table after winning in Wales last Friday and have already been in Scotland for a few days, with some of them turning up at Hive Stadium to see that win over Connacht.
“They came up on Saturday morning after they played Cardiff, and a couple of their boys came to our game. I saw my brother after the game – he left after 60 minutes because he said he couldn’t sit there any more as it was too cold. I took him to the Renaissance to play golf on Sunday. He enjoyed it.
“They have won two out of three of their away games and are top of the table, but so were Connacht. This is another big challenge for us at the weekend – they’re big physical men and we have to stop them.”
Van der Merwe’s Scotland colleague Ali Price is expected to make his Edinburgh debut against the Bulls after moving from Glasgow on a season-long loan, and the winger is looking forward to linking up with the scrum-half, who he believes is beneficial to his own game. “It’s good having Ali back,” he added. “He tries to get me into the game as much as possible – always tells me to stay busy, which I quite like.”