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'I’ve got nothing to prove to them... I don’t have any sour grapes'

Duhan van der Merwe is excited to play against the Springboks’ Cheslin Kolbe.

Van der Merwe starts on the left wing for the Lions.
Van der Merwe starts on the left wing for the Lions.
Image: Billy Stickland/INPHO

WARREN GATLAND HAS been warning him to expect ‘verbals’ from the Springboks, some people have been questioning how he was picked ahead of Josh Adams, and others have concerns about his defensive and aerial qualities.

Nonetheless, Duhan van der Merwe himself seems to be pretty relaxed about starting on the left wing for the Lions against his native South Africa tomorrow.

The Scotland wing is in a rich vein of form in Test rugby, having made his debut last October.

He has scored eight tries in his first 10 Scotland caps and that lethal form has continued on the Lions tour. Opta’s stats show that Van der Merwe has beaten more defenders [27] than anyone else, made the most post-contact metres [206], and manufactured the most clean breaks [11].

His attacking prowess edged him ahead of Adams in what must have been one of the tighthest calls in Gatland’s first Test team. 

“I’m pretty confident,” said van der Merwe today. “I have been enjoying playing over here and I’m buzzing to go. I feel fit, the body feels great, and I can’t wait.”

Gatland has told him to back himself in attack, while the sledging from the Boks isn’t something the Worcester-bound wing is worrying about.

“In any game you play you’ll always get some verbal abuse, people getting stuck into you,” says van der Merwe. “I’m pretty used to it.

“I know I’m going to get a few boys holding onto me, pushing me here and there, but I’m just going to avoid it and focus on my game, get stuck into those kinds of bits.”

dhl-stormers-v-the-british-and-irish-lions-castle-lager-lions-series-cape-town-stadium Van der Merwe is a big unit out wide. Source: PA

Tomorrow is the latest chapter in van der Merwe’s interesting career path. He played for the South Africa U20s with the likes of Handré Pollard and Malcolm Marx – who he faces tomorrow – but fell out of the system there after playing for the Bulls.

The imposing 6ft 4ins wing had a season-long spell with Montpellier in France but then made the move to Edinburgh in 2017 and proved to be a major hit. Three years of residency qualified him to play for Scotland and he has been a first-choice player since last year.

He was top try-scorer in this year’s Six Nations, meaning Gatland found it impossible to ignore him and now van der Merwe will be a Test Lions against the country of his birth. He cheered the Boks on during their World Cup final success in 2019 and bears no ill feeling towards South African rugby.

“I’ve got nothing to prove to them,” said van der Merwe. “I came over, I play for Scotland and the British and Irish Lions, I’m just going to go out there and show what I can do.

“It’s been six years, I don’t have any sour grapes, anything like that. It’s not about going out and showing them ‘oh you guys should have kept me’. I’m happy with how everything went with my move and fair play, look where I’m sitting now.

“I’m absolutely buzzing now. I’m happy with how things worked out for me.”

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Van der Merwe joked that he doesn’t know enough about lineouts to accurately translate any of the Boks’ calls in Afrikaans but he will be keeping an ear out for any hints from Pollard and co. in the backline.

The Lions wing is likely to have his hands full defensively if he is left in any one-on-one situations with Springboks right wing Cheslin Kolbe, one of the game’s most dangerous attacking players.

cheslin-kolbe Kolbe will be a major threat to the Lions. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

“I’ve never played against him,” said van der Merwe. “He has very good feet, he’s a quick guy and he throws his body around so fair play to him.

“His ability to beat boys one-on-one is amazing. It’s just staying on top of him, not giving him too much time on the ball.”

And van der Merwe’s confidence shone through again as he reminded everyone that Kolbe will have to deal with him too.

“When it’s my turn on the ball and I have my shot at him, he needs to defend me. It’s not just me defending him. You have to look at it both ways.”

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