Duhan joins the clan of King Arthur
For one big family, the celebrations around Scotland’s Calcutta Cup victory at Twickenham last month – their first in 38 years – have taken on a whole new dimension.
As part of the Scotland’s team’s tribute to the pioneers who had worn the thistle in the very first rugby international against England some 150 years ago, 20 of the players on duty at Twickenham, had the names of the Scotland 20-man team from that trail-blazing 1871 match, embroidered on their jersey.
TV coverage captured that captain Stuart Hogg carried the name of the 1871 captain, Francis Moncreiff, on his strip. But which players were matched to the other 19 from 1871?
The first email arrived with Scottish Rugby’s Customer Services team less than 24 hours after the momentous 11-6 victory. Peter Dunlop in Edinburgh, whose great-grandfather was John William Arthur – one of Scotland’s half-backs in 1871, and one of the five signatories to the original challenge to England that set up the match – wanted to know who had his relative’s name on his shirt?
That was not the last email on the same tack either. In came another from Seonaid Brown, great grand-daughter of John Arthur, detailing how she had the 1871 Scotland team photo framed and hanging on her wall in Helensburgh and how she had played with JW Arthur’s Scotland cap “when I was little as it was just in my dad’s desk drawer!”
Scottish Rugby, thanks to help from Glasgow Accies, already knew of another great grandchild, Rod Arthur, based in Worcestershire. Soon we were to learn of other relatives of the innovator supreme, JW Arthur, who, in the chronological list of Scotland caps, is number one. But, to link the names from 1871 to the current team was tricky.
David Edge, Scotland team manager, was provided with a list of the 20 Scots on duty in that 1871 match. Back then, there were 14 forwards and six backs, so an exact match to a 23-man squad was never going be possible. Instead, Edge, linked backs to backs. He had the goal-kicker from 1871, William Cross, embroidered on Finn Russell’s shirt. Then forwards to forwards (apart from captain to captain). The first try scorer from 1871, Angus Buchanan, who played in the forwards, was emblazoned on Hamish Watson’s shirt.
Scotland cap number one, JW Arthur, adorned the shirt of Duhan van der Merwe, Scotland’s try scorer in the game!
Given the pride from the Arthur clan at the team’s performance and that Duhan had so honoured their great-grandfather, Scottish Rugby set up a Zoom call with Duhan and Peter; Seonaid; her son Colin who joined the call from Calgary in Canada together with his son, two-year-old Dawson; and another great grand-daughter Aline-Wendy who was in Glasgow.
During the video call, the 25-year-old Edinburgh Rugby winger talked about his proudest moment on the rugby field.
“It was my first time playing at Twickenham and against England so obviously it was a very special day for me and as a winger I see it that my job is to score tries. Duhan van der Merwe
“When I missed that first opportunity, I honestly couldn’t believe it! As you guys saw, it was quite wet and raining a bit so when I got that cross-field kick from Finn I had no idea that ball would bounce so far above my head. I’m a tall guy and I jumped so I was probably that far (signifies tiniest of margins) that far off.
“And then obviously when I got my second opportunity, I got the ball from George Turner and I just said to myself ‘you know what Duhan the try line is like ten metres away you need to finish this.This is your job’.
“And, yeah, I managed to get over the whitewash and I was really happy with that.”
Duhan showed his amazement when he learned that the average weight of the England team in 1871 was 78kg – Duhan weighs in at a hulking 106kg!
Seonaid Brown told him: “It was such a wonderful game. A really, really brilliant game and you scored the try. You were wearing his shirt; you scored the try. You are immortal now. Absolutely amazing. We’re just so proud. You are a giant amongst men as far as we are concerned.”
The Arthur clan showed items of memorabilia before Duhan displayed JW Arthur’s Scotland cap from 1871 – which is normally on display at BT Murrayfield – and then his jersey from the Calcutta Cup success.
The questions flowed thick and fast.
How nervous were you before the England game?
Duhan: “More nervous! After I played against France and Ireland in the Autumn Nations Cup, I thought to myself I’m actually fine now, I’m not as nervous. And then, against England, you know they’ve got this massive name and they are one of the best teams in the world and I went into that game and I was nervous.
“But we just kept on saying as a team that it’s tough times with the Covid and we just wanted to go out and inspire the nation and having the players’ names on our jerseys was very special.
“That motivated us and at the end of the day beating the English at Twickenham was unbelievably special, but I was definitely stressed out before the game.”
How was it playing in a near empty Twickenham?
Duhan replied: “I’ve not experienced playing for Scotland in front of a crowd but that’s one thing we spoke about creating our own vibe speaking to each other the whole time and just making it fun because sometimes without fans it’s tough.
“When things don’t go your way, you get the fans behind you and that helps. We are a very tight bunch of boys and we said from the beginning we are going to create our own vibe and as you saw the boys were buzzing and everybody just loved it and enjoyed it.”
As the chat drew to a close Duhan was asked to name three more Scots for Colin’s fantasy Six Nations team and then Peter asked if he had a kilt?
He was then showed the Arthur tartan. “That’s Arthur! None of these red ones. Get one of these!” instructed Peter.
Seonaid said: “You’re allowed to wear it now!”
Duhan pledged: “I’ll get one of those.100%”
So, when you see Duhan van der Merwe striding out in a predominantly green kilt you’ll know the pride of one of Scottish Rugby’s founding families that he has joined the clan of King Arthur.
By Graham Law