DTH VAN DER MERWE was told back in early February that his season was over due to a shoulder injury. At 32 years of age (he is now 33), he was well aware that he is in the twilight of his pro rugby career, so to be ruled out of his team’s push for end of season glory was tough to take. He was not sure how many more chances to get his mitts on some silverware would come around, so he decided to disregard the advice.
“I didn’t think it was that much at the time, I finished the game, but then they said: `No, you’ve got to fix your shoulder’ and I was gutted about that,” recalls the flying Canadian. “I went away for a couple of weeks with the family to try to clear my head. Then, after the surgery – I’ve had a few of them now – I promised myself I was going to do everything I could to try and get back this season. Just smash my rehab.
“They said the chance was gone – there was no chance – but coming out of my sling I had quite good range, and then after the first couple of weeks of rehab I had a follow-up appointment, and again after four weeks, and eight weeks. I was doing things I wasn’t supposed to be able to do so Ms McBirnie, the surgeon, said to just carry on with the rehab and push harder.”
The perseverance paid off. Van der Merwe could possibly have made Warriors’ final game of the regular season against Edinburgh on the last weekend of April, but it was decided not to push it in order to make sure that one of the team’s most dangerous strike runners – who has scored 41 tries during 98 appearances during two spell are the club – had the best possible chance of being fully fit when the do-or-die rugby begins against Ulster in this Friday night’s PRO14 play-off semi-final at Scotstoun.
“It’s been brewing for a little while now,” he explains. “Eight weeks post-surgery I knew my goal was to get back for the semi-final. The team still had to make it by that time, but we set the goal pretty early.”
“It gives me goosebumps thinking about it now. It means so much to me, you want to be part of the big games, part of something special that can happen here. I’ve gone to a final and sat in the stands – Leinster [in 2014] – and it’s tough sitting in there watching the guys play and we obviously didn’t win that game. In 2015 of course I came back after being on the bench and we won that, and then with Scarlets I was off the bench again. I would hate to have the feeling just to be in the stands. You still feel tight with the boys and you deserve your winner’s medal, but there’s nothing better than being in the field.”
Despite the lack of recent game time, van der Merwe is confident that he will be able to hit the ground running if selected on Friday.
“I’m ready to play, I’ve ticked all the boxes,” he insists. “It’s not a fitness test now, it’s the volume over a week, and the last two weeks I’ve been steadily getting my load up with double sessions and stuff like that.
“I think we run our S&C for the return to play guys brilliantly and, I tell you what, we train harder than the guys on the field. There’s not a day goes by that we don’t do skills, all kind of crazy stuff to keep your eye in that will help me transition to the field. I’ve been training with the team now for three weeks, so it’s been easy to integrate.
“With this time off [between the end of the regular season and the play-offs] we’ve had to get our match fitness with the training and I’ve been fully involved in that.”