THERE is nothing like trying to help an 80-year-old lady salvage what she can from her home which has been submerged under a typhoon induced mudslide to give a bit of perspective to your own disappointment about a game of rugby being called off.
When Canada’s final World Cup pool match against Namibia was cancelled just over two weeks ago due to the impact of Typhoon Hagibis on the Japanese host city of Kamaishi, DTH van der Merwe was understandably frustrated and a little bit angry. It would have been his 62nd and final appearance for his country (his family emigrated there from South Africa when he was 17), with the 33-year-old winger hanging up his international boots after 13 years and four World Cups at the end of the tournament.
Having suffered heavy defeats to Italy, New Zealand and South Africa in their first three pool matches, this clash against Namibia presented a golden opportunity to finish the campaign (and van der Merwe’s international career) on a high. But it was wasn’t to be.
“For two days, everyone was speaking about this typhoon coming in, so you kind of expected there to be damage and stuff, and you saw it on the news going through Tokyo, which was about eight hours ahead of use,” recalled van der Merwe. “Then it changed course, so everyone was bracing for it, and we knew there was a chance the game would be cancelled.
“I woke up at 3am just to see what it was like and it was a pretty powerful, but the next morning it was the most beautiful day of the whole time we were in Japan, so it was a massive disappointment not getting to play.
“First of all, you want to know why, and see why they actually cancelled the game. You want proof because you’ve worked so hard to be in this tournament and this was the game we had focused on.”
Ultimately, however, the Canadian squad had to accept their fate, but rather than dwell on their disappointment they decided to get out there and do something positive, so they signed up to help with the clean-up operation.
“When we went to the centre of Kamaishi we found the town was flooded with mudslides coming down from the hills,” explained van der Merwe. “The house I went to had an 80-year-old lady living by herself and her house was on stilts, but it was still flooded two feet deep inside.
“It was quite upsetting to see, but she was used to it, I think. She took everything in her stride, just telling us to throw things out. You make two piles – a keep pile and a throwaway pile – and there were no tears, she just got on and dealt with it.”
All of a sudden, the real human cost of what had happened became apparent and van der Merwe’s own disappointment began to feel like a triviality. That’s not to say the frustration instantly disappeared, but the player – who has already done the qualifications to become a firefighter once his club career comes to an end – was able to take a more philosophical view of his predicament.
Now back in Glasgow where he has a year to run on his Warriors contract, van der Merwe is determined to make up for lost time by helping the team get their season on track following a disappointing start to the 2019-20 campaign which has seen the team manage only one win from four outings, with last week’s 18-5 loss away to the Dragons a particular low.Error, group does not exist! Check your syntax! (ID: 24)
“I’m not happy with the way I played, and the way my team played, at the World Cup, with some disappointing losses and a lot of points scored against us – so now I want to make right playing for Glasgow,” said the man who has scored 51 tries during two spells at the club (2009-15 and 2018-present).
“We’re only four games into a 21 game [league] season,” he added. “When I was with the Scarlets, the year we won the league, we lost the first three games of the season, so we’re not panicking yet.
“We just need to build from here, we’ll be re-integrating all the World Cup players again, and we’ve just got to focus on ourselves and fix the things we got wrong on the weekend against the Dragons.”
Van der Merwe and Warriors will be focussed on taking a step in the right direction when they take on the Southern Kings at Scotstoun on Friday night.