DUHAN VAN DER MERWE has vowed to repay the faith and loyalty Edinburgh showed in him when he failed a fitness test soon after arriving in the capital back in the summer of 2017, after signing a contract extension [for an unspecified time] with the capital club.
“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 – at the end of the day, it was actually easy for me to decide to stay here,” said the 24-year-old winger, who has scored 28 tries in 53 appearances so far for the club.
“I was [playing] over in France [with Montpellier], I couldn’t really speak any French and I was struggling with my hip for about 14 months. I came over, did a medical and said: ‘There’s something wrong with my hip, I don’t know what it is’. So, I went to see the doctors and failed my medical, and I thought: ‘Oh no!’ 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 [head coach Richard Cockerill] 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, we love the city so I’m really happy to have re-signed.”
The South African-born winger is a phenomenal physical specimen with pace, power and a nose for the try-line. He is certain to come into contention for international honours when he becomes Scottish qualified in mid-June, ahead of this summer’s tour to his homeland and New Zealand.
“It’s in the back of my head,” he admitted. “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. It would be really cool, playing against South Africa [this summer] – if I get the opportunity, I’d love that.”
A more rounded player
Van der Merwe is in no doubt that he has become a more rounded player since arriving in the Scottish capital, and when asked to identify the particular areas he has improved in he replied: “More options without the ball, running lines, passing definitely, high ball catching, defence and just getting involved in the game.
“I used to just stand on the wing and if I didn’t get the ball, I’d walk off the field and say: ‘They didn’t pass to me’. Whereas now, I actually work and try to get the ball. I’ve still got bits of my game I need to develop but I’m a much different player than I was when I arrived. I’m a lot more confident in the things I do.
“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. And being able to run that fast with 107kgs is a bonus. So, I have to keep working hard at that.”
Meanwhile, head coach Richard Cockerill believes the retention of van der Merwe underlines the club’s commitment to carry on the upward trajectory they have made in recent season.
“He’s got a unique skill-set, he’s very quick and finishes well, so I’m delighted that he’s re-signed,” he said. “He can have the ball 70 metres from the line and, if he gets and opportunity, he’s going to take it. He has pure pace – his footwork and 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.
“We’ve not got a massive budget so 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.
“Obviously he’d be in demand in other places so I’m delighted he sees his future here – and hopefully that will include national involvement at some point. He’s keen to play international rugby and hopefully we’re giving him the platform to do that.
“When he came, he was very young, very raw – and he was injured when he arrived,” Cockerill added. “So, we had to put our faith in him, and it has worked out well.”