ONE of the most remarkable rises in recent rugby history will be completed this afternoon when Duhan van der Merwe takes to the field for the British & Irish Lions, barely nine months since making his Scotland debut. 

Now 26, the winger has obvious physical attributes that may make his success seem inevitable, but that was certainly not the case when he left his native South Africa for France five years ago. Two years after that, when he moved from Montpellier to Edinburgh, he was still a raw talent whose career had been interrupted all too often by injury. And even for the first six months or so of his stay with Richard Cockerill’s team, that pattern persisted.

But once he was injury-free and learned how to use his size and speed to best effect, Van der Merwe flourished impressively. Long before that Test debut against Georgia, Scotland supporters were counting down the days until he became eligible on residence grounds. He did not disappoint them, scoring on his debut, and going on to rack up a try tally that now stands at eight scores in ten Tests.

Given the fact he was allowed to leave South Africa so easily, Van der Merwe might be forgiven for wanting to send an I-told-you-so message to his compatriots as he prepares to face them today. But he insisted that he is not on any kind of revenge mission, preferring instead to focus on playing his part as the Lions seek a winning start to the three-Test series.

“I feel I have nothing to prove to them,” he said. “I came over and played for Scotland and now the British & Irish Lions, so I’m just going to go out there and show what I can do. 

“I don’t have any sour grapes or anything like that. So it’s not about going out there and trying to show them that they should have kept me. Look at where I’m sitting now, I’m absolutely buzzing, so I’m happy with how things worked out for me, to be honest.” 

This afternoon Van der Merwe comes up against one of the most feared attackers in world rugby, Cheslin Kolbe, a man capable of beating the best organised defences on his own. The two look polar opposites - Kolbe, 5ft 7in, uses elusive running to beat opponents, while 6ft 4in Van der Merwe employs speed and massive strength - and the Lions winger insists he is looking forward to the duel.

“Cheslin’s an amazing player and it’s going to be a big challenge for me and something I’m really looking forward to, going up against him. We’re two completely different players and I’m looking forward to the battle.

“He’s got very good feet, he’s a quick guy and he throws his body around. His ability to beat boys one on one is amazing, so it’s just about staying on top of him and not giving him any time on the ball, and when I have my shot at him then he needs to defend me as well. So you have to look at it both ways.” 

The same goes, Van der Merwe believes, for South Africa’s kicking game. When Kolbe is not racing at him ball in hand, stand-off Handre Pollard is likely to be peppering his area of the pitch with aerial bombs - a tactic which the Lions man regards as an opportunity as much as a threat.

“We know there’s a lot of high balls coming on Saturday. They love the kicking game. But obviously if those kicks go too long and I have the time on the ball to run back at them then that’s what I enjoy, so it can go two ways.” 

And as for the sledging which Lions coach Warren Gatland thinks is bound to come Van der Merwe’s way? The player himself is confident of shrugging it off with as much ease as he shakes off attackers.

“In any game you play you always get some verbal abuse and you get people getting stuck into you. I’m used to it. I know I’m going to get a few boys holding on to me, pushing me here and there, but I’m just going to avoid it and focus on my game.”