DTH van der Merwe, a proud Canadian international born in the Western Cape, will tick another career goal off on his ‘to do’ list when the Canucks take on his native South Africa at Rugby World Cup 2019.
Van der Merwe’s five tries played a huge role in Canada winning the repechage tournament in Marseille earlier this month, thereby earning them the right to line up in Pool B alongside the Springboks, defending champions New Zealand, Italy and Namibia.
And for Van der Merwe, who moved to Canada when he was 14 and has played his entire professional club career in Europe, qualification this time around presents him with a unique opportunity.
“I have never played against South Africa in a 15s game, so to get the chance to do that will be really special,” he revealed.
“I’d never even played professionally in South Africa until this season when Glasgow went there (to play the Cheetahs). It is like the stars aligning.”
WE'LL SEE YOU AT #RWC2019!— Rugby Canada (@RugbyCanada) November 23, 2018
Canada's Men's Rugby Team has officially qualified for the 2019 @rugbyworldcup in Japan next year after sweeping the repechage with wins over Kenya, Germany & Hong Kong in Marseille, France! @WorldRugby@TSN_Sports#RugbyCA#RC15s pic.twitter.com/qO2AyiOkUw
While relishing the prospect of playing against the Springboks and also becoming only the third Canadian to appear at four Rugby World Cups, Van der Merwe is just as excited for his team-mates who have yet to experience playing at that level.
“I said last night to the boys that, as a guy who has been to three World Cups, it was my responsibility to help the young guys to get to a World Cup,” he told World Rugby straight after the final whistle had sounded on Canada’s all-important 27-10 win over Hong Kong in the repechage.
“As a player, you need to experience that. You feel like a superhero when you are there. It is awesome, I just can’t explain it.
“Our young full-back, Theo Sauder, said he watched some of us play at World Cups and that’s what inspired him to be a Canadian player, and now he’s playing at the top level. That’s what it is all about, especially as you get a bit older, you just try and inspire some of the younger guys.”
Canada faced their most arduous journey to a Rugby World Cup following Americas 1 and 2 play-off defeats to the USA and Uruguay.
“It feels so, so good. I am so proud of the guys and so glad we got there in the end,” he continued.
“We dug deep, and it’s been a really tough three weeks, not just because we had three tough games but because the pressure builds and builds as you get closer.”
In the past, Canada have qualified as Americas 1, at the expense of the USA, but last year the roles were reversed, the Eagles progressing as the continent's top dogs following an emphatic win in the second leg of the home-and-away series.
Since then Gary Gold’s side have kicked on in impressive fashion, winning the Americas Rugby Championship at the start of a season of unprecedented success with the only blemish coming in the final test of 2018 against Ireland.
Rather than look on enviously at what the Eagles have achieved, Van der Merwe says Canada needs to draw inspiration from how their great border rivals have turned their own fortunes around.
“Obviously the gap between tier one and tier two nations is quite significant at the moment but if you look at the likes of our neighbours, the USA, and how good they are doing right now – they are 12th in the world and have beaten Scotland, Samoa and Romania – that’s what you want to aspire to and get to that top 10, I guess.”