DUHAN VAN DER MERWE’s face lights up when he recalls being a wide-eyed 14-year-old watching in awe as Springbok replacement Jaque Fourie bounced three tacklers on his way to scoring the decisive try in the second Test of the 2009 British and Irish Lions tour to South Africa.  

“That brilliant try in the corner – I remember that one very well,” he smiles. “If someone had told me then that when the next tour came around, I would be playing against the Springboks for the Lions I would have said, ‘no way mate!’ As a small boy growing up, I would have been thinking that one day I want to play for South Africa. But it just shows you how things can change. And I’m really happy with how things have worked out for me.” 

It has been a whirlwind six months for the 25-year-old winger. Having qualified to play for Scotland through the three-year residency rule, he made a try-scoring international debut against Georgia last October and has gone on to cross the whitewash eight times in his 10 appearances in the dark blue jersey so far, including a deadly double in the team’s famous victory over France at the end of the recent Six Nations. 

While doubts over his positioning and some of the technical aspects of his game persist, his pace and power – the ability to bounce tackles just as Fourie did 12 years ago – has propelled him into the Lions squad as one of eight Scottish players selected on Thursday for this summer’s expedition to take on the world champion Springboks in their own backyard. 

It must be a surreal feeling, and the whole experience will be even stranger if he ends up playing against his older brother, Akker, the Sale Sharks hooker who was capped three times by the Springboks in 2018 and is now pushing hard for an international recall. 

 “There’s probably a small possibility of that depending on if he gets named in the squad and if I get a chance to play, so that would be very cool,” he says. “I’ve spoken to mates back in South Africa, and my family, and they are very happy for me.Hopefully, they can come and see me play, although I don’t know who they will be supporting. 

“The last time we spoke they said they were going to get a special jersey created – one side Springboks and the other the British and Irish Lions! My mum and dad said they would support me when I have the ball and they will support my brother when he has the ball. Which is very fair!” 

Covid restrictions will limit how much van der Merwe sees of his old haunts, but he will be up against a few familiar faces in both the provincial games and the Test matches if selected.  

“I played under-20s with a couple of the guys there and I’m mates with a few others,” he explains. “I know Malcolm Marx, Jesse Kriel and Handre Pollard, plus Faf de Klerk who plays with my brother at Sale, and a few others as well. I pretty much know most of the team! 

One of the few Springboks he is not on first name terms with is his potential opposite number Cheslin Kolbe, who is nine inches shorter and over four stone lighter than van der Merwe but has arguably the fastest feet in world rugby.  

“I’ve never played against or with him, but if I get the chance it’s something I would look forward to,” he insists. “He reminds me a lot of wee Darcy Graham.”  

Van der Merwe will join English Premiership side Worcester Warriors after the Lions tour but insists he will always be grateful to Edinburgh for resurrecting his career after he failed to make the grade playing for Montpellier in France.

“I failed my medical when I first came over, but they still took a chance on me,” he says. “I was quite raw when I came over, I’m still far from the finished product, but Edinburgh have spent a lot of time on me and helped me with my game. I have to give credit to our coaching staff for helping me over the last couple of years. 

“I take my hat off to them and I’ll always say thanks to them for helping me. I’ve loved every minute of my time at Edinburgh. But sometimes opportunities pop up and you want to take on a new challenge. That’s something I decided to do. But hopefully I’ll still be in Edinburgh quite a lot.”