RICHARD COCKERILL spoke at length about his commitment to hold the core of his Edinburgh squad together next season to continue the progress that the team has made under his leadership over the past three and a half years, but yesterday afternoon, when it was revealed that Duhan van der Merwe had decided to move to Worcester Warriors in the summer, the optimism suffered a significant setback.
Since his arrival at the club in 2017, the 25-year-old winger has been a potent offensive tool for Montpellier. In 64 games, he scored 31 tries and led the PRO14 in meters gained, defenders beaten and line-breaks last season.
Via the three-year clause, he qualified for the Scotland national team last summer and made his international debut in October with a try against Georgia. He scored two more against Italy and Ireland, while in the remaining autumn Tests he made five appearances. He is touted as a future player on the basis of his form for the British and Irish Lions, who will move to his native South Africa next summer (if that expedition can go ahead as planned).
After his long awaited comeback against Edinburgh, Richie Gray hopes to star for Glasgow.
In the past, Van der Merwe spoke of his appreciation to Cockerill and Edinburgh, who in 2017 threw him a “lifeline” by putting him on despite a failed medical condition and the need for intensive care for a long-standing hip problem. Yet loyalty is a secondary factor in the cold, hard world of professional sports – where athletes must make the most of their careers in the limited time they have at the top.
“I loved my time in Edinburgh and it was a really difficult decision to leave a club that helped me develop so much as a player,” said van der Merwe. I would like to thank the fans and employees for the great support they have earned over the past three years, and I look forward to giving my best for the rest of the season.
“I’m very excited to be joining Worcester Warriors – as a club they play an exciting brand of rugby and that’s something I can’t wait to be a part of.”
That last sentence might raise a few eyebrows. Worcester may be trying to pursue a more expansive fixture list under Alan Solomons than Edinburgh did during his time in the Scottish capital, but they are a perennial contender in the English top flight.
Most recently, before taking four points from Covid’s postponed New Year’s Day game against Harlequins, they went on a five-game losing streak in the league and European Challenge Cup, leaving them bottom of the Premier League table.
Facing mediocre performances, Edinburgh manager Richard Cockerill was delighted with Glasgow victory
Last season they finished ninth in the Premiership, their highest finish since eighth in 2006. In the intervening period they have finished 10th and 11th four times and 12th and last (meaning relegation) twice.
Given the recent form of van der Merwe, then, it is somewhat surprising that there was no worthwhile bid from one of the more glamorous and up-and-coming teams in the league.
Cockrill, for his part, had no choice but to admit that he was unable to match Worcester’s bid, but he indicated that Edinburgh fans will have some news to rejoice in the near future.
“We’ll be disappointed to see Duhan go – he’s a quality player – but his performances have attracted a lot of attention this season and we’ve had to cut back accordingly to remain competitive across the squad, with good news on that front coming soon,” the coach said.
“We wish him well at his new club when the time comes, but he’s still an Edinburgh player for a few months and will help us climb up the table in the Guinness PRO14 and continue to compete in the Heineken Champions Cup.”
Glasgow coach Danny Wilson looks at the good results of Edinburgh’s loss.
Among the other major names in Edinburgh are Darcy Graham, Blair Kinghorn, Jamie Ritchie, Hamish Watson and Viliame Mata, whose contracts expire at the end of the season and are likely to draw attention south of the border.
He’s an outstanding talent, and I think he’s going to make a huge impact,” Solomons said, “Duhan is an X-factor player who has now proven himself internationally.