Edwill van der Merwe supported the Junior Springboks from the sidelines as a ball boy in the 2012 World Rugby Under-20 Championship in South Africa, which the team won, andfour years later he has established himself as one of the key players in the side.
Van der Merwe, who grew up in the small town of Kylemore outside of Stellenbosch, has scored two tries so far in the tournament in Manchester, England – one against England in the semi-final and the other against France in the team’s final pool match. He was also named in World Rugby’s dream team following the semi-final on Monday.
The 20 year-old, who is a first-year sports science student at Stellenbosch University, admits that going down to England in the semi-final was the lowest point in his rugby career. But despite this, he continues to value every moment of participating in the international showpiece.
“I was a ball boy during the 2012 tournament in South Africa and it was an amazing experience,” said Van der Merwe.“It was during my Grade 10 year at Paul Roos Gymnasium and a few players in the Junior Springbok team, such as Steven Kitshoff, Tshotsho Mbovane and Braam Steyn attended the same school. Since then I always dreamed of being selected for the team. To be honest, I never thought it would become a reality, and now a few years later, I am now living that dream.
“Unfortunately we can no longer achieve our goal of advancing to the final, which is bitterly disappointing, but we have a vital match against Argentina on Saturday in the third place playoff, and we are determined to finish the competition strongly.”
Van der Merwe, who was a sprinter during his school days, admits that his two tries and being named in World Rugby’s round-four dream team will form lasting memories, but he said the job was not yet done.
“It is an honour and privilege to be a member of this team to receive the opportunity to play in the World Rugby Under-20 Championship,” said Van der Merwe.
“I am really enjoying my rugby at the moment and I am blessed to be surrounded by amazing team mates and coaches.
“I started playing rugby in Grade 1 and since then it has been my favourite sport, so it is a dream come true to play for the Junior Springboks. The achievements here are a cherry on top, and they have been made possible by a solid team effort. But we have one match left and hopefully we can deliver a fine performance and secure the bronze medal.”
To the player’s delight his mother, Chareldine, sister, Trudine, and girlfriend, Nadine, have come to England to support him, which has made the experience even more special.
“It is very special to have the people who are most dear to me share this occasion with me,” he said. “My father, Edward, would have loved to be here as well, but he had to stay behind for work. However, he has been a champion supporter from home.
“My parents have been a pillar of strength throughout my rugby career, and my mother has attended every match that she possibly could since I was a young boy, so for her to be here with my sister and girlfriend is unbelievably special.”
Looking ahead in his career, Van der Merwe hoped the World Championship would prepare him for his senior provincial debut and Vodacom Super Rugby debut in the next few years, while he has also set his sights on perhaps being selected for the Springbok team in the long term.
“The U20 Championship has been the highlight of my career so far,” said Van der Merwe. “The competition is without doubt as tough as I thought it would be, and it is very physical. There is no room for error if one wants to win the title.
“Looking forward, my goals are to play in the Currie Cup and Vodacom Super Rugby competitions, and later on to hopefully represent the Springboks, and I hope this tournament will serve as a stepping stone to achieve that. For now, however, my only focus is on doing my best to help guide the team to a third-place finish in the tournamenton Saturday.”