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'Just give me the ball and I will sprint' - Duhan Van der Merwe

By Bryn Palmer
Duhan van der Merwe of Scotland acknowledges the fans as players of Scotland celebrate after defeating England during the Guinness Six Nations 2024 match between Scotland and England at BT Murrayfield Stadium on February 24, 2024 in Edinburgh, Scotland. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Scotland hat-trick hero Duhan van der Merwe has vowed to continue plundering Six Nations tries and try to beat Stuart Hogg’s all-time record for his country by the end of the Championship.

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The giant Edinburgh winger became the first player to score a Calcutta Cup treble for Scotland in Saturday’s 30-21 victory over England at Murrayfield, including a stunning 60m solo effort.

His three tries took his tally to 26 in 37 Tests since his debut – which he marked with a try – against Georgia in October 2020.

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His total includes 14 in 16 Six Nations matches, with Scotland heading to Rome to face Italy next on 9 March before concluding their campaign against title favourites Ireland in Dublin.

It now seems only a matter of time before the South African-born finisher achieves his goal of overtaking Hogg, who retired last summer after racking up 27 tries in his 100 Tests for Scotland.

“When the Six Nations started, that was something I was targeting,” said Van der Merwe, who is the championship’s leading scorer with five after also grabbing two tries in their opening 27-26 win against Wales in Cardiff.

“I knew I had to get seven in five games and hopefully I’m on track. There’s two games left and I think I need two more. Hopefully I can achieve that. It would obviously be very special for me and my family.”

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Van der Merwe, 28, and Edinburgh team-mate Darcy Graham have been competing over the past year to be the first to break Hogg’s record.

The 6ft 4in Van der Merwe only managed one at the recent Rugby World Cup, where Graham picked up five – including four in a rout of Romania – to move three clear of his rival onto 24.

But Graham’s latest injury setback – he is likely to miss the whole Six Nations after picking up a groin injury – has given Van der Merwe the chance to surge head of his club-mate.

“I’m worried about Darcy,” he said. “He’s obviously a special talent. Unfortunately he’s injured, but he’s buzzing for me. We play together for Edinburgh. We’ve obviously got a competition going on but while he’s out I’ll be looking to take my opportunity. But I know once he’s back he’ll score a couple as well.”

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Van der Merwe, whose incredible solo score from inside his own half and winning try at Twickenham in last year’s fixture had already carved his name into Calcutta Cup folklore, described scoring his first hat-trick for Scotland as “bloody special”.

He was on hand to collect Huw Jones’ superb offload off the floor and step inside the remaining England cover for his opener in the 20th minute to reduce Scotland’s early 10-0 deficit.

His stunning second try nine minutes later – picking up another Jones pass 10m inside his own half after an England attack broke down and leaving Ben Earl and Henry Slade in his wake as he sprinted headlong down the left touchline – transformed the momentum of the match and his third, collecting Finn Russell’s exquisite cross-kick five minutes into the second half to dot down, pushed the Scots into a nine-point lead they maintained until the end.

“Two of them were walk-ins but that’s my job,” he said. “I’ll take it. All in it was a special day.  My job as a winger is to finish off opportunities and scoring two last year and three on Saturday, they’re both bloody special and it’s a day I’ll always remember.

“The biggest thing is just the team. If I can manage to score some tries and that means we win, obviously it’s special. We’ll target the next two games and if I don’t score, as long as we win as a team, that’s the main thing.

“I have to do my job. If that’s chasing box-kicks, it’s chasing box-kicks, if that’s finishing off opportunities to get points on the board, then so be it.’

Asked what was going through his mind before he set off on his 60m surge to glory, the 28-year-old added: “It’s hard to explain. I always say to the players, just give me the ball and I will sprint. It’s instinct. I just catch the ball and do my thing. I don’t think much about it. It just comes naturally to me.”

Given that Van der Merwe now has six tries from four outings – and four victories – against England, it is ironic that it was an Englishman who paved the way for him to make his name with Scotland.

Van der Merwe, from George in South Africa’s Western Cape, initially failed his medical owing to a hip problem when former Edinburgh head coach Richard Cockerill brought him to the Scottish capital from Montpellier after just a handful of games for the French side.

But the former red rose hooker opted to sign him anyway and that faith in his potential has been repaid handsomely over the past seven years as Van der Merwe now stands on the verge of becoming his adopted country’s top try-scorer.

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“When I came over in 2017, there was never the thought of playing for Scotland because the only thing I could think about was playing for Edinburgh,” he added.

“I mean, I’d only played two professional games at that point. I had to stay for three years before I’d become eligible for Scotland but it was never guaranteed that I’d come over and automatically just end up playing for Scotland.

“It doesn’t work like that. I had to perform for my club and then there’s a lot of hard work and dedication that goes into that.

“But I love playing for Scotland and I’m just so happy at how everything has turned out. When I come in on the bus on game days, I look at all our fans and I think, ‘How can I give back to Scotland because this country has given me so much?’ I guess with my performances, that is giving back to our fans.”

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