Kobe, Japan (AFP/APP): Canada star DTH van der Merwe is relishing the prospect of finally facing his native South Africa in 15-a-side action when the countries meet at the Rugby World Cup.
Tuesday’s Pool B match in Kobe will be just the third time they have played each other and the first in 19 years — when current Springboks coach Rassie Erasmus featured in a 51-18 win for the two-time world champions. It promises to be a rugby highlight for van der Merwe, a veteran of 60 Tests and stints at clubs in England, Wales and Scotland.
“Something I’ve looked forward to my whole career is to play against South Africa,” van der Merwe told reporters on Sunday. “Now at your last World Cup it’s quite special. I did play against them in the Sevens back in the day but I’m looking forward to the opportunity,” added the 33-year-old, whose family emigrated to Canada when he was a teenager. Meanwhile van der Merwe was in no doubt of the challenge posed by the Springboks.
“They have got a physical pack that’s complemented with a real speedy backline,” he said. “For us it’s a great opportunity just to measure ourselves against one of the best teams in the world.”
Van der Merwe will be playing in his 15th World Cup match, a record for a Canadian. He now has the chance to become just the fifth player after Samoa’s Brian Lima, Ireland’s Brian O’Driscoll, Wales’s Gareth Thomas and Australia’s Adam Ashley-Cooper to score a try at four different World Cups, although the modest van der Merwe said Tuesday’s game was “not about me”.
Canada, who will have a new front row, play South Africa just six days after suffering a 63-0 thrashing by reigning champions New Zealand in the most lop-sided result of this tournament so far. Facing the rugby union superpowers in quick succession would be a daunting challenge even for any side, let alone Canada, as their performance manager, Huw Wiltshire, admitted.
“For any Tier One nation playing the All Blacks and the Springboks in one week is a challenge,” he said, with Canada eyeing a win against fellow minnows Namibia in their final pool match. “I’ve done that with Wales and I know from personal experience it takes a toll on the players.”
Canada great Gareth Rees, sent off in a 20-0 loss to eventual champions South Africa in the infamous ‘Battle of Boet Erasmus’ at the 1995 World Cup, said the current side had made Canadians “proud of the jersey” at this edition. But he lamented that matches against the likes of New Zealand and South Africa were “unfortunately all too rare” for Canada.
Andrew Coe; Jeff Hassler, Conor Trainor, Ciaran Hearn, DTH van der Merwe; Peter Nelson, Phil Mack; Tyler Ardron (capt), Matt Heaton, Lucas Rumball; Kyle Baillie, Evan Olmstead; Jake Ilnicki, Andrew Quattrin, Hubert Buydens
Replacements: Benoit Piffero, Djustice Sears-Duru, Matt Tierney, Josh Larsen, Michael Sheppard, Jamie Mackenzie, Shane O’Leary, Guiseppe du Toit.