Last Test series’ minutes on the wing for a Scot – Alan Tait in 1997
Duhan van der Merwe’s unique selling point is his ability to power through tackles. The winger is an incredibly difficult man to stop, which he has parlayed into an outstanding try-scoring strike rate for both Edinburgh and Scotland.
When Scotland have used van der Merwe to truck it up in the middle of the pitch he has been excellent at getting over the gain line. In order to win a place in the Lions’ Test squad though he will need to show that he can bring that power to bear more regularly into the heart of the action.
Duhan might need to accept that the trio along the lines of Stuart Hogg, Liam Williams and Anthony Watson look more likely to be the favoured for the back 3 starting roles, bringing all-round strengths and a good balance to the full back and wing positions.
Under normal circumstances an out-and-out winger would be a luxury for a bench spot. However, if all of the starting back 3 can all cover full back and Owen Farrell is in the 23 to slot in at stand off or centre then the Lions’ coaches might be able to afford to have a game breaker among the replacements.
If that is the case then van der Merwe’s main aim has to be to win his head to head battle with Louis Rees-Zammit to provide a bit more explosive dynamism (with a focus on power in DVDM’s case against pace for LRZ) that could prove the difference in unlocking the Springboks’ defence.
It’s crucial Duhan takes every opportunity to showcase his outstanding ability to break tackles and push himself ahead of steadier options for the number 23 shirt like Josh Adams and Elliot Daly who can provide more solid defence and a kicking game to boost their credentials (van der Merwe averages a kick every 164 minutes for Scotland and has only booted the ball once in his last 19 PRO14 / Rainbow Cup games for Edinburgh).
What are the chances? In a tough battle for a bench spot. Even tries on tour might not be enough for the big man – he has to show a hunger to work off his wing and win the Lions front foot ball on a regular basis.
Last Test series’ minutes at full back for a Scot – Gavin Hastings in 1993
Stuart Hogg is seemingly in pole position for the number 15 jersey after his strongest season for Scotland for a number of years. A backfield trio of Hogg, Liam Williams and Anthony Watson would have definite vibes of the Hogg / Sean Maitland / Tommy Seymour grouping that was so successful for the dark blues over a number of years.
The Exeter full back’s highlight reel is filled with examples of his hot-stepping and coruscating pace but it may well be other areas of his game that are most crucial for the Lions. In a series that is likely to be tightly contested and with neither defence likely to give an inch, Hogg’s distribution and kicking could seal his place in the starting line-up.
Over the last four years for Scotland he has opted to kick 24% of the time (the most of any Scottish player), pass 32% and run 43%. His spiral punting would make a real weapon in the Lions’ armoury when it comes to winning the field position battle.
He averages 7.5 passes per 80 minutes from full back – well ahead of the average for Scotland’s other outside backs – as he frequently steps in as a playmaker to vary the picture in the attacking system.
Playing Williams and Watson who are equally adept at full back or on the wing would free up Hoggy to provide options as a first or alternate receiver and get the high involvement rate he does with Scotland.
The Hawick man’s growth into the captaincy role should also stand in his favour with a strong group of leaders likely to be needed in what will be an extremely challenging Test series.
What are the chances? The most likely Scot to start.