RICHARD COCKERILL has spoken at length about his determination to keep the nucleus of his Edinburgh squad together next season as he looks to continue the progress he believes the team has made under his tutelage during the last three and a half years – but that ambition suffered a major setback yesterday afternoon when news broke that Duhan van der Merwe has agreed to join Worcester Warriors in the summer. 

The 25-year-old winger has been a potent attacking weapon for the club since his arrival from Montpellier in 2017, scoring 31 tries in 64 appearances, and leading the PRO14 in ‘metres gained’, ‘defenders beaten’ and ‘line-breaks’ last season. 

He qualified to play for Scotland through the three-year residency rule last summer and made a try-scoring international debut against Georgia in October. He crossed the line twice more against Italy and Ireland whilst taking his cap tally to five during the remainder of the recent Autumn Test schedule, with his form throwing him into the frame as a potential British and Irish Lions tourist to his native South Africa next summer (if that expedition is able go ahead as scheduled). 

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Van der Merwe has spoken in the past about his gratitude to Cockerill and Edinburgh for throwing him a "lifeline" back in 2017, by taking a punt on him despite a failed medical and the need for major treatment on a long-standing hip problem. However, in the cold, hard world of professional sport – where athletes must make the most out of their career during the short time they have at the top – loyalty is a minor consideration.  

“I’ve loved my time in Edinburgh and it was a really tough decision to leave a club that has helped me develop so much as a player,” said van der Merwe. “I would like to thank the fans and staff for their great support over the past three years and look forward to giving my all for the rest of this campaign. 

“I’m very excited to be joining Worcester Warriors – as a club they play an exciting brand of rugby and that is something I cannot wait to be a part of.” 

That final sentence might raise a few eyebrows. Worcester do try to operate a more expansive game-plan under Alan Solomons than Edinburgh managed during his time in the Scottish capital, but they are perennial strugglers in the English top-flight. 

They recently went through a five-match losing streak in the league and European Challenge Cup, before being awarded four points from the Covid-cancelled New Year's Day fixture against Harlequins, which lifted them off the foot of the Premiership table.  

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They finished ninth in the Premiership last season, their highest placing since coming 8th back in 2006. During the intervening period they have finished 10th and 11th four times each, and 12th/last (meaning relegation) twice.  

So, it is slightly surprising given van der Merwe’s recent form that there wasn’t an offer worth taking up from one of the more glamorous and upwardly mobile sides in the league. 

For his part, Cockrill was left with no option but to accept that he could not match what Worcester were offering – but did indicate that Edinburgh fans will have some news to celebrate in the near future. 

“We’ll be disappointed to see Duhan go – he’s a quality player – however his performances have attracted a lot of attention this season and we’ve had to cut our cloth accordingly to stay competitive across the squad, with good news on that front coming soon,” said the coach. 

“We’ll wish him all the best at his new club when the time comes but he’s an Edinburgh player for a few more months yet and he’ll be here to help us push up the table in the Guinness PRO14 and continue to compete on the Heineken Champions Cup.” 

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Darcy Graham, Blair Kinghorn, Jamie Ritchie, Hamish Watson and Viliame Mata are among the other big names at Edinburgh coming out of contract at the end of the season, who are likely to attract interest from south of the border. 

“Duhan is an X-factor player, who has now established himself at international level,” said Solomons. “He is an exceptional talent and, I believe, will have a huge impact on the team,” said Solomons. “He has pace and power and is a world-class finisher. He is a player who puts bums on seats and our fans are certainly in for a treat.  

“He is also a first-class bloke and team man and will fit in well here at Sixways. We all look forward to his arrival.”