Damn the South African online haters of Duhan van der Merwe. Show the British & Irish Lions big winner some love because while he plays for Scotland and on Saturday made his Lions debut against Japan at Murrayfield, those bones, blood and flesh of his are all South African, writes Mark Keohane.
Van der Merwe scored a try in the Lions 28-10 win against Japan.
Van der Merwe’s story is one that should be celebrated as you should Neil Wagner and Devon Conway’s brilliant career exploits in helping New Zealand to win cricket’s first ever World Test Championship trophy.
Wagner left Pretoria for a new challenge in his early 20s and has taken over 200 wickets for his adopted country, and Conway, who left Johannesburg as a 26 year-old, has been the talk of New Zealand cricket from the moment he arrived on the club cricket scene in Wellington and famously scored 200 on his Test debut against England at Lords earlier this month.
Van der Merwe, a Junior Springbok teammate of Handre Pollard in 2014, left South Africa as a 21 year-old to experience life overseas as a rugby player and five years later has scored eight tries in 10 Tests for Scotland and against Japan became the 10th South African to play for the British & Irish Lions.
Van der Merwe, in a media interview this week, confirmed the abuse he was getting from the trolls on social media and vowed to do his talking on the rugby field.
I would like to think that Van der Merwe sees these trolls for exactly what they are and appreciates that the majority of South African rugby fans salute his success, admire his adventure and celebrate the fact that another South African born and bred export is showcasing his talents on the international stage.
Springboks World Cup-winning wing Cheslin Kolbe, minutes after winning the Top 14 with Toulouse on Friday evening, was asked about the prospect of facing Van der Merwe in the three-Test series that starts at the Cape Town Stadium on the 24th July, and he raved about Van der Merwe as a player and his impact in his first season of Test rugby.
‘He is an unbelievable player,’ said Kolbe. ‘I think he has got everything a winger needs. He can run with the ball and he is good on defence and he, like the other guys in their back three, have got good balance.’
Bulls and former Springboks World Cup winning coach Jake White was responsible for agreeing an early release for Van der Merwe, when his brief stint at Montpellier in France didn’t work out.
White, who was coaching Montpellier, said Van der Merwe had struggled with injury and, at the time, there could have been no guarantees for him at the club. Edinburgh had shown an interest in Van der Merwe and the talks suggested that he could qualify to play for Scotland after three years.
‘I encouraged him to go and did what I could to get him an early release. He was young and he was willing to take the risk. I am very pleased it worked out for him. He weight 110 kilograms, is 1.92 metres and is a big runner, and he has had a very good start to his international career and he is already a British & Irish Lions player, which is a magnificent achievement,’ said White.
Van der Merwe is the brother of Springbok and Sale hooker Akker van der Merwe and while his arrival in Johannesburg on Monday will be a homecoming of sorts, it also won’t be because no player will be able to engage with any family or friends while in the strict confines of the team bio-bubble.
The Covid-enforced bio-bubble for the Lions and Springboks means no interaction with the public and there can’t be hotel or training or match venue visits because of the fear of a covid infection spreading to the players.
Neither the Lions nor the Springboks would have experienced a bio-bubble of this intensity and it will test the mental resolve of every player even more than the physical examination of the actual Test series.
Van der Merwe will have plenty of time to go on social media, but he’d be good to avoid the comments section dominated by the trolls and be encouraged with the knowledge that true South African rugby supporters are on his side, even if they may tease him that he is playing for the wrong side.
Out of Africa – South African-born British & Irish Lions
RC Mullins (1896)
Stan Harris (1924)
Brian Black (1930)
Dyson Wilson (1955)
Duhan van der Merwe
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