Scotland wing Duhan van der Merwe

Scotland wing Duhan van der Merwe. Photo: Andrew Surma/NurPhoto via ZUMA Press

British & Irish Lions: Duhan van der Merwe homecoming to vindicate Springbok ‘selection blunder’?

British & Irish Lions coach Warren Gatland has named South African-born Scotland international winger Duhan van der Merwe in his squad to face the Springboks in July

Scotland wing Duhan van der Merwe

Scotland wing Duhan van der Merwe. Photo: Andrew Surma/NurPhoto via ZUMA Press

British & Irish Lions coach Warren Gatland has named South African-born Scotland international winger Duhan van der Merwe in his squad to face the Springboks in July.

In essence, that means an interesting “homecoming” for the George-born try machine, who many in South African rugby circles believe could well have been participating in the series in the Green and Gold of the hosts. However, van der Merwe will return to the country of his birth in the prestigious red jersey of the British & Irish Lions instead.

Early signs were promising for Duhan van der Merwe’s future Springbok credentials

Van der Merwe is a player who showed immense promising in his junior rugby years, turning out for the SA Schools side two years in a row. He would then predictability follow that up with a SA u20 call-up in 2014, with his two appearances proving to be his last in the Green and Gold. The 25-year-old struggled to break into the Blue Bulls side, however, making just two appearances before leaving the Tshwane-based side in 2016.

However, his move to Montpellier did not yield a change of fortunes for the speedster. He was moved on swiftly to Scottish giants Edinburgh after just a year in France. That is where his rugby began to take off and after missing half of his first season through a recurring hip injury, he would soon start repaying the union for signing him despite failing his medical.

Upon achieving his goal of playing for Scotland, attention switched to representing the British & Irish Lions

Van der Merwe’s top form in the last three or so years for Edinburgh has not gone unnoticed, as he has signed up for English Premiership side Worcester Warriors next season. He was constantly amongst not only the top try scorers in the Guinness Pro14 but the best performers too. That rampant form had a lot of South African fans begging the question, does he not deserve a Springbok call up?

Unfortunately that call up was not forthcoming for van der Merwe, and justifiably so as his hot streak coincided with a period of a quality- wingers overflow in the country. Upon Rassie Erasmus taking up the Springboks he decided to show faith in four inexperienced Test level wingers Aphiwe Dyantyi, Sbu Nkosi, Makazole Mapimpi as well as Cheslin Kolbe.

Springbok competition proved too steep for him

The competition between the four was so rife, that had Dyantyi not been under a ban one would’ve likely had to miss out on a world cup birth, which now seems hard to think of. Even beyond that quintet, however, a larger section of fans seemed to believe that the country had an overflow of quality wingers regardless. In 2019 alone the likes Madosh Tambwe, Rabz Maxwane, Rosko Specman, Sergeal Pietersen, Seabelo Senatlala and a resurgent Cornal Hendricks were all firing on all cylinders or considered long term solutions.

Beyond that group, there was 2018 debutant Travis Ismaiel who was in superb form in the Vodacom Bulls’ Super Rugby charge in 2019. Unfortunately for van der Merwe, all those options meant he was already deemed surplus to requirements to any Springbok conversation any time soon. But come 2020, while the situation began to change in South Africa, van der Merwe only got stronger applying more intense pressure on Erasmus’ regime.

The picture began to change in South Africa, Van der Merwe got stronger

After the lockdown, Mapimpi went to Japan, Tambwe fell further down the Sharks pecking order, making his move away from the Lions more perplexing. Maxwane did not kick on as he moved to the Lions from the Cheetahs in a move that was supposed to edge him closer to the national set up. Ismaiel failed to set the stage alight before getting injured, on his return to the Bulls, Petersen has arguably reached his ceiling at 27, while the jury remains out on whether Senatla will be able to replicate his Sevens form in the Fifteens game.

Outside of Kolbe and Nkosi, the future regarding the Springbok wing situation leading up to the next world cup begins to look less convincing. Mapimpi returns from Japan with not much rugby in his legs since departing for the “Land of the rising sun”, and Specman, despite his form, at 32 doesn’t depict a long-term option, perhaps like a … van der Merwe. 

He can prove two points in one tour

In fact, if you take a closer look some of the country’s most in-form wingers aren’t even playing as wingers anymore. The likes of Hendricks and Raymond Rhule, who now plies his trade outside the country, have been in incredible form as centres.

Hendricks completed his resurgence, being named the SA Rugby player of the Year 2020, while Rhule is also up for a prestigious European award. In that time of South African winger travails, van der Merwe made his Scotland national team debut, effectively ruling him out of the Springbok conversation completely.


Van der Merwe has continued his form at international level too, proving a welcome addition to his adopted nation, scoring eight tries in ten games. His continued form, coupled with the uncertain long term future of the Springboks at wing could make for an interesting British & Irish Lions tour for van der Merwe who could kill two birds with one stone by proving his point to the selectors, as well as highlighting a potentially ensuing crisis.