Duhan van der Merwe and Edinburgh go forward in tandem
Duhan van der Merwe freely admits he viewed Edinburgh more as a club that could help kickstart his career than be one competing for honours when he joined last year.
The imposing 6ft 4in, 16 stone South African wing signed a two-year deal from Montpellier but was frustrated by a five-month injury which delayed his Edinburgh debut until November, which ironically came in his homeland during the back-to-back games against Cheetahs and Southern Kings.
Since then his five tries have helped contribute to Richard Cockerill’s men pushing themselves into strong PRO14 play-off competition and the wing is now hoping to add a European semi-final to what is unfolding as an excellent season when Cardiff Blues come to BT Murrayfield tomorrow evening in the Challenge Cup quarter-final.
Van der Merwe confesses that he would have viewed that as unlikely when he put pen to paper.
“When I signed I looked at Edinburgh and they were ninth or tenth on the log and I checked the previous years and I was ... oh!
“I just thought to myself I’ll come over and try and get some game time. I’m a young guy and I want to play professional rugby. So being in the play-off spots is massive. We’ve worked so hard and I really think we deserve to be competing with the top dogs.”
Van der Merwe has stated that he would like to qualify to play for Scotland under the residency rules, having signed when that remained three years, and he has clearly added something different to an Edinburgh side who are breaking the shackles of past underachievement.
“It’s difficult for me because I don’t know what’s gone on in the past,” said the 22-year-old. “The boys say they are much more positive this season. They’ve got much more confidence.
“Being in this position is great. It’s why you play rugby. To compete against the big teams. I’m just enjoying it at the moment.”
Cockerill has certainly been impressed and the head coach said: “He’s a big physical specimen and he’s quick. He’s a good player and the couple of tries in the last two weeks, I don’t think anyone else would have scored them.
“To catch Dougie Fife up from where he was to get on the end of the pass against Munster and get around [Simon] Zebo was impressive, and there’s not many other players who would score that at the weekend.
“He’s a young player and he’s still learning the softer skills of the game. But physically and finishing wise he’s a good as anyone.”
A continuation of his prolific streak could see Van der Merwe challenge the PRO14’s leading tryscorers, the table currently led by Leinster’s Barry Daly on ten. And although the Edinburgh man plays that prospect down and insists he is just enjoying being part of a positive back division, he is clearly wnhoying himself.
“I’ve missed probably half of the season so I reckon I won’t get [top tryscorer],” he said. “Obviously being a winger I like scoring tries. But I just want to contribute to the team and see where we get.
“Blair [Kinghorn] is phenomenal. Dougie [Fife] as well. He’s played out of position the last two games and has been brilliant. You’ve got Damien Hoyland, Darcy Graham, Tom Brown is back. They are knocking on the door. The competition keeps you on your toes and that’s really a good thing.”