Edwill van der Merwe is surely the most recognizable face in the FNB Varsity Cup and even if his hairstyles might change at frequent intervals, his blistering pace, try-scoring ability and celebrations has been the stuff of legends since he stepped onto the field.
The Paul Roos old boy, who hails from the picturesque hamlet of Kylemore, is no stranger to the tryline and has scored tries in the colours of his school, his province and his country. What makes his rugby achievements even more incredible is the fact that he has been a full-time student at Stellenbosch University since 2015!
While at the Western Province Rugby Institute (WPRI) in 2015 Edwill enrolled at Stellenbosch University and juggled playing in the National U/19 competition with achieving the required number of credits to play in the FNB Varsity Cup. “That first semester was tough, having to rush between the training field and campus, but it helped me stay focused and also allowed me some breathing space as I had some credits in the bag when I started with my Sport Science studies the next year,” said Van der Merwe.
The next year was when he announced himself to the world, and everyone could see that he was destined for greatness, both on and off the field. His first FNB Varsity Cup appearance was on the hallowed turf of the Danie Craven Stadium, and after entering the field on the 70th minute mark, he grabbed his first try against the visiting FNB CUT. He scored a total of six tries in that first season, as the FNB Maties were pipped at the post by FNB NWU.
While he was bitterly disappointed by the result of the final, things were happening for Edwill in terms of his own personal rugby achievements. While he had represented Western Province at the Grant Khomo Week (2012), Academy Week (2013) and Craven Week (2014), he was not selected for the SA Schools team in his matric year.
However he represented South Africa at the African Youth Games in Gaberone, Botswana, held from 20 to 26 May 2014. This first taste of the Green and Gold was definitively a testament of things to come, as Edwill outworked and outplayed his rival wingers to such an extent that none of the wings selected for the 2014 SA Schools team even made the Junior Springbok team in 2016.
He travelled to the World Rugby Under-20 Championship in Manchester, England, held from June 7 to 25 2016, as one of two FNB Maties in the team, alongside current FNB Maties captain Ernst van Rhyn. His fellow wings in the squad were future Blitzbok Mosolwa Mafuma and future Springbok winger S'busiso Nkosi.
Just like with his FNB Varsity Cup debut, Van der Merwe announced himself on the big stage with a scintillating try. After not being involved in the first Junior Springbok match, which saw them trounce Japan 59-19, and only getting 20 minutes in the 13-19 loss to Argentina, Van der Merwe started on the wing against a strong French outfit. Among the France U20 players on the field that day were future test scrumhalf Antoine Dupont, flyhalf Anthony Belleau and centre/winger Damian Penaud. His Junior Springbok teammates who have played test match rugby since then were Nkosi, scrumhalf Embrose Papier, flyhalf/fullback Curwin Bosch and Blitzbok Zain Davids.
His five-pointer and the subsequent conversion saw the Junior Springboks gain the lead and the hold on to beat the much fancied French team 40-31 and book their place in the semi-finals of the World Rugby Under-20 Championship. They unfortunately came unstuck against eventual winners England, but Van der Merwe managed to score a try in the 39-17 loss. This trend continued as he also scored a try in the 49–19 loss in the bronze medal match, and he returned home with his reputation even more enhanced, as he had been named in World Rugby’s round-four dream team at the tournament.
The rest of 2016 saw him make his senior Western Province debut in the Currie Cup Qualifier against Boland in Piketberg and be involved in the WP U21 team that were runners-up in the National U21 competition. He also thrived academically and passed his first year of Sport Science studies.
2017 saw his most productive try-scoring season for the FNB Maties, as he dotted down seven times in the competition. He scored his first hat-trick against the FNB Shimlas on Monday 6 March 2017 and it was truly heart-breaking as he missed the final due to injury. He could only watch as his team went to the northern rivals FNB Tuks. He played a major part in the WP U21 team as they went on to claim the National U21 competition by beating a highly fancied Bulls U21 team 48-41 in the final.
In 2018 Van der Merwe was now an established and senior member of the FNB Maties team and this experience and composure was evident in the FNB Varsity Cup final at the Danie Craven, as his moment of magic sealed the victory for the men in maroon. Just after the second half had resumed, with the score at 10-7 in favour of the FNB Maties against FNB NWU, the visitors were on the attack and a pass was sent to one of their outside-backs. Van der Merwe read this like one of his sport science textbooks and intercepted for a seven-point try. The conversion by flyhalf Chris Smith was good and the FNB Maties led 19-7, before eventually claiming a 40-7 victory and finally tasting that elusive silverware after two years of disappointments.
This season has seen Van der Merwe continue where he left off last year. He shrugged off some injury niggles in the pre-season and as evident on his Instagram (edwill_vdm), is in the shape of his life. He has become the elder statesmen of the FNB Maties backline and even helped the team out by playing as fullback when he was called on by the coaching staff. He has since moved back to his preferred position of wing and poor FNB NWU couldn’t believe their luck on Monday as he scored for the 4th, 5th and 6th time against them in the FNB Varsity Cup. These tries were number 20, 21 and 22 in his FNB Varsity Cup career and saw him rocket to the top of the try-scoring chart, passing teammate Duncan Saal, who had previously been top of the pile with his 20 tries. Edwill is also set to graduate at the end of the year with a BA Sport Science degree and should serve as an incredible role-model for any young rugby player.
With three regular season games left and a likely semi-final and final at the Danie Craven, Edwill can continue to improve his record and he must also be in line to match and even improve the single season try-scoring record of 10 tries jointly held by Saal and former FNB Tuks winger Duhan van der Merwe.
Be sure to be at the Danie Craven on Monday night as Edwill and the FNB Maties host FNB UJ in a non-televised game before receiving a well-earned rest in their bye week. They finish their regular season commitments with a trip to Bloemfontein to battle the FNB Shimlas and host newcomers FNB UWC in Stellenbosch in a first FNB Varsity Cup meeting between these two local teams.
Edwill van der Merwe FNB Varsity Cup try-scoring record by the numbers:
2016: 6 tries
8 February 2016 –Debut; Maties vs CUT – 1 try
14 March 2016 – Maties vs UCT – 2 tries
21 March 2016 – Maties vs NWU –1 try
24 March 2016 – Maties vs Shimlas –1 try
4 April 2016 – Maties vs Tuks – 1 try
2017: 7 tries
13 February 2017 - Maties vs NWU –1 try
6 March 2017: Maties vs Shimlas - 3 tries
20 March 2017: Maties vs CUT – 1 try
27 March 2017: Maties vs UJ – 2 tries
2018: 4 tries
5 February 2018 – Maties vs Shimlas – 1 try
19 February 2018 - Maties vs CUT – 1 try
26 February 2018 - Maties vs Wits – 1 try
16 April 2018 - Maties vs NWU –1 try
2019: 5 tries
11 February 2019 – Maties vs UCT – 1 try
25 February 2019 – Maties vs CUT – 1 try
4 March 2019 – Maties vs NWU – 3 tries
Total: 22 tries (and counting!)