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'Made for playing that stage': The South African the Lions couldn't afford to ignore

By Liam Heagney

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One Lions player who will attract much focus in South Africa is Duhan van der Merwe, the soon-to-be 26-year-old Scotland winger who was born in George and represented the Junior Springboks before finding rugby fame and fortune in the northern hemisphere where he will soon move from Edinburgh, the Guinness PRO14 club where he made his name, to Worcester in the Gallagher Premiership.    

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It was last winter when the finisher qualified for the Scots under the three-year residency rule and he didn’t hang about making a telling impact, playing in all ten of Scotland’s matches this season, starting nine and scoring eight tries – a tremendously impressive strike rate.  

He scored in six of those ten appearances, finishing off his first Guinness Nations campaign by scoring two tries in each of Scotland’s closing two matches, the Super Saturday win over Italy and then in the rearranged fixture versus France in Paris.   

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That match was where the performance of Finn Russell massively caught the eye of Lions boss Warren Gatland and the exploits of van der Merwe on the wing didn’t go unnoticed either and it has now resulted in him getting chosen for the tour down in his native land. 

Lions assistant Gregor Townsend was the coach who handed van der Merwe his Scotland debut last October and he has every confidence from what he has seen in their international set-up that the South African will be a valuable player to have on the trip south.

“He has not been back in South Africa for a long time,” said Townsend. “Look, he has shown over the last six months when he came into the Scotland team and played Test rugby that he is made for playing that stage. He has improved a fair bit as well during that process and there is a lot more to come from him. We were really impressed with how well he trained, how he fitted with the new team. 

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“These are things that are going to be crucial on the Lions, how to integrate with new teammates, how intense you train, how open you are to feedback, but also how you get your strengths out. He has got undoubted strengths with his physicality, his ability to break tackles and his speed. Our job as coaches is making sure the players show their strengths over the six weeks we come together as a Lions squad.” 

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'Made for playing that stage': The South African the Lions couldn't afford to ignore

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