GLASGOW WARRIORS will have a player within their ranks on Saturday afternoon who has first-hand experience of inside the Saracens camp, but DTH van der Merwe is not going to be able to give his team-mates any great insight into the famous ‘wolf-pack’ mentality of their European Champions Cup rivals.
It was, after all, 11 years ago when he played for the London outfit – three and a half years before Mark McCall became director of rugby/driving force at the club, and when the possibility of significant cash investment from South Africa was regarded as little more than a fanciful rumour. Saracens reached the semi-finals of the Heineken Cup that year before losing to Munster at the Ricoh Arena, but only managed to finish eighth in the Premiership.
“I was a medical joker call-up for two months at the start of the 2007-8 season,” the 32-year-old Canadian winger recalls. “I think Dan Scarbrough was the winger that went down and Eddie Jones – who was a consultant to Sarries head coach Alan Gaffney at the time – put me in touch through Glen Ella, who was the Canada coach.
“I was 20 years old and playing local rugby back home, had just been called up to the Canada squad and had two caps going into the World Cup, so it was a great opportunity.
“I only played one game for the 1st XV against Leeds in the EDF Cup, although Alex Goode and I played four or five games together in the ‘A’ League. Gordon Ross [the former Scotland fly-half] was there and in my first game I scored a hat-trick thanks to him kicking three cross-field kicks to me. Kevin Sorrell [now a coach at Saracens] was playing centre at the time and he used to drive me into training. Mosese Rauluni, Richard Hill, all of those older guys were there at the time. This was when the club played at Vicarage Road.
“It was good times – but it was before Saracens became what they are today.”
Once a Warrior …
Van der Merwe’s spell at Saracens came to an abrupt end when he broke his ankle playing for Canada in the Dubai Sevens in December 2007, which side-lined him for 18 months, and he next resurfaced in the European club game with Glasgow Warriors in the summer or 2009 – going on to make 96 appearances for the club over the next six years, scoring 43 tries in the process, culminating in a try-scoring contribution in the team’s historic 2015 Guinness PRO12 play-off Grand Final victory over Munster.
He then had a successful two seasons in Wales with the Scarlets (20 tries in 41 games), and a less successful stint with Newcastle Falcons (one try in three games), before returning to Scotstoun towards the end of last season.
It didn’t take him long to rediscover the form which had made him such a potent strike player for Warriors during his first spell with the club, with four tries in five appearances for the club before the summer break.
And he started the current campaign in pretty fine fettle, scoring four tries in six appearances during September and October, but like a good number of his team-mates, things have not clicked quite so easily recently and he has not crossed the whitewash since 21st October – which is a fairly long time by his standards.
“I think we maybe just haven’t had the time together,” he reflects. “I’ve been in and out of the team, but fortunately Niko [Matawalu] has been playing really well recently and has scored six tries. Things are slowly brewing for us and we’re in good shape.”
Taking his chances
Warriors will certainly need to be in good shape this weekend because the challenge they face is huge. As an outside back, van der Merwe knows he is not going to have a barrel-load of chances against Saracens, and anything which does come his way has to be gobbled up.
“We just have to focus on ourselves and bring a real physical mentality to the game,” he said. “In the first game against them earlier this season, we showed that we can match them in that area. There wasn’t really much in that game – a bounce of the ball here or there, or maybe a different call from our key playmakers would maybe have gotten us over the line.
“Clearly, 13-3 isn’t a big score and it could have gone either way. Hopefully we can get the job done this weekend.
“We just need to be clinical when there is a line-break. I think we had quite a few in the last game against them, but there were a few loose balls that we just threw away, so we didn’t finish off those chances at key moments.
“So that’s probably where the wingers come into play, we have to anticipate someone making a line-break and make sure we’re there to support them and finish it off.”