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Opinion: The scrutiny of van der Merwe is unwarranted; rugby union’s eligibility laws are working well.

England’s defeat to Scotland over the weekend was largely due to one man: Duhan van der Merwe.

An absolute steamroller with pace to match that simply destroyed England’s defence and scored a hattrick whilst doing so. But, for some, there is a problem: he was born in South Africa.

England’s defeat to Scotland over the weekend was largely due to one man: Duhan van der Merwe.

An absolute steamroller with pace to match that simply destroyed England’s defence and scored a hattrick whilst doing so. But, for some, there is a problem: he was born in South Africa.

Van der Merwe possesses no ancestral connection to Scotland and only plays for the national team on residency grounds, meaning he has served the required number of years (at the time, it was three years) living in a country to then play for its senior team.

The winger simply followed the laws surrounding eligibility and then was selected, from which Scotland have benefited immensely from. There is no ‘foul play’ and sneaky loophole that Scotland used to bring van der Merwe over and utilise his talents; they simply followed the laws within the sport.

It does seem to be a yearly trend that whenever van der Merwe scores against England that many voice their opinion over their stark opposition to him playing for Scotland. Whilst this is largely reactionary, some may wonder if international rugby is becoming more ‘club-like’.

Out of the total 45 players that have been called up to Scotland’s 2024 Six Nations wider squad, 23 were foreign born. Now there is understandly some opposition to this but by looking closer at which players qualify purely through residency, the number shrinks considerably. Only 3 players (Duhan van der Merwe, WP Nel and Pierre Schoeman) have qualified by residency, with the rest qualifying through parents or grandparents.

Whilst it may get to a point where a nation’s players are born out of the country they are representing, the fact of the matter is that the players and team selections are following the ancestral eligibility rules, which have been in motion for many years.

Some fans do debate this topic massively but by purely focusing on Duhan van der Merwe is unwarranted and narrow minded. Some residency qualified players do spring to mind, that have positively affected their national teams.

Manu Tuilagi of England during the World Cup 2023, Pool D rugby union match between England and Samoa on October 7, 2023 at Pierre Mauroy stadium in Villeneuve-d Ascq near Lille, France RUGBY : Angleterre vs Samoa – RWC2023 – Coupe du monde – France 2023 – 07/10/2023 LaurentLairys/Panoramic PUBLICATIONxNOTxINxFRAxBEL

Manu Tuilagi was born in Samoa and had no prior connection to England before gaining residency and has been an integral part of the national side when not injured. Jamison Gibson Park and James Lowe have been in sensational form for Ireland but only qualified after moving from their home country of New Zealand. French powerhouses Uini Atonio and Paul Willemse both moved away from their native countries and represented Les Bleus on residency grounds also.

The focus that van der Merwe receives is simply unfair. The new eligibility laws that came into fruition in 2020 made it harder for foreign born players to qualify for an international side as the length of time required to qualify was increased from 3 to 5 years. It is clear that most of those players who are not born in the country that they are representing, still have an ancestral connection through bloodline.

It is inevitable that some players will represent international sides that they were not born in due to the eligibility laws but also because of a deep desire to play international rugby and better themselves. If you put yourself in the position of these professional athletes, it is more than probable that you would leap at the chance of representing a team on the international stage, regardless of where you were born.

International teams have been doing the same as Scotland for years also, so the negative attention surrounding van der Merwe is hypocritical, considering the use of foreign born players by the vast majority of international teams. The eligiblity laws within rugby union are shown to work and notions of international rugby becoming ‘club-like’ are untrue.