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Townsend: Why 'amazing' van der Merwe achievement won't beat last year

By Liam Heagney
Duhan van der Merwe touches down for his second Scotland try on Saturday (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

Gregor Townsend has hailed Duhan van der Merwe’s “amazing achievement” in becoming the first Scotland player to score a Calcutta Cup try hat-trick, but the head coach quipped that it didn’t eclipse the winger’s effort in the 2023 fixture versus the English.

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The 28-year-old South African is developing a habit of scoring in the world’s oldest rugby international fixture, his record now reading six tries in four appearances.

He scored one try in the 2021 win in London and hit back from 2022’s home blank to score twice at Twickenham in last year’s success before producing this weekend’s unprecedented treble in their latest Guinness Six Nations clash.

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Townsend in no way sought to downplay the significance of van der Merwe’s magnificent contribution to the sparkling 30-21 success, but he suggested that last year’s double in London was his pick of the bunch.

“I’ll have to look at it, I can see you want to write an article on Duhan’s performance,” he joked when his post-game media briefing came back around for the third separate time to the topic of van der Merwe’s joyous scoring exploits.

“To score three tries is an amazing achievement. I don’t think it will beat last year, though. Duhan’s two tries were amazing, and he scored there as well (in 2021), so he obviously thrives in this fixture and we’re delighted he was available.”

Townsend’s initial comments on van der Merwe’s hat-trick similarly began with a tongue-in-cheek reference. “Was it three run-ins he had? Yeah, he was great. The try where he went down the wing made a big difference.

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“The first try was exceptional play with Sione (Tuipulotu) and Huw Jones, and Huw Jones keeping the ball alive. That was probably the first time we had an attacking platform in England’s half, so that was needed.

“The second one was a big momentum swinger. The crowd realised that too and then the third one, the Finn (Russell) kick, a good bounce for us and Duhan’s finish was great to see.”

A year ago, following the opening round win at Twickenham, Townsend described van der Merwe’s solo score from the halfway line that scattered would-be defenders as something out of the yesteryear Jonah Lomu Rugby game on PlayStation.

What went through the head coach’s mind when he saw his winger set off on his 30-minute solo gallop from a similar distance at Scottish Gas Murrayfield?

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“That he doesn’t step into touch. He was very close, and even when he finished his try. That ability to back yourself too. It could have been easier to slow down, step someone and use his power, not just go for it.

“That was great. There is risk and reward in that. If you go for it and get tackled you’re in touch. But he just had enough pace to get there. We’re delighted. I’m sure there is footage of us jumping up and down in the coaching box.”

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The hat-trick took van der Merwe’s Test career try total to 26, just one behind retired record holder Stuart Hogg. “He has got a lot of rugby ahead of him. Darcy Graham too, he’s up there in try-scoring numbers and has a lot of rugby ahead of him.

“The threat that we have out wide with Kyle Steyn, with other guys that have played for us, does put teams under pressure and they can’t just focus on our midfield. There will be space somewhere on a rugby field and I’m glad Duhan found it.”

Not that the hat-trick hero was the sort who’d be inclined to gloat about it. “It’s a team sport and two of Duhan’s tries were created by others. It’s a great achievement. Duhan is actually very humble.

“I was praising him for a tackle, I thought it was the best tackle I have seen from him. Despite that, it went to report (a yellow card that was reviewed in the bunker for potential red card play). I don’t know what game we’re watching now, a very good tackle could actually be a red card. It seems crazy.

“He did a lot of work in the France game with no reward. Today, that work brought him a lot of reward. And in terms of achievement, we won this game for each other and our supporters, so we won’t look past that.”

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