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By Mark Gleeson
CAPE TOWN (Reuters) - Duhan van der Merwe is in line to join a small band of British and Irish Lions who have played against their country of birth after being selected on Thursday for the tour of his native South Africa.
The 25-year-old flyer is a former South African junior international, who played against new Lions team mate Maro Itoje in the junior World Cup final seven years ago but has since become a Scottish international
Van der Merwe, who started his career at Blue Bulls in Pretoria and whose elder brother Alker has won three caps for the Springboks, debuted for Scotland last October after serving a three-year residency period and quickly made a strong impact with his forceful running on the wing.
His selection makes him the 11th South African-born player to be selected by the Lions but only the second Afrikaner after CJ Stander, another former junior international who went on to play for Ireland and feature in the last Lions test against New Zealand four years.
Of the 10, four have played for the Lions against the Springboks.
Cuth Mullins, who toured his home country with the Lions in 1896 while studying medicine at Oxford, was the first followed by Stan Harris in 1924. He had previously been the South African light heavyweight boxing champion.
Dyson ‘Tug’ Wilson, who had moved to England aged eight, returned to South Africa with the 1955 Lions, while Mike Catt, born in Port Elizabeth, was an injury replacement in 1997 for the Lions tour of South Africa and started at flyhalf in the final test in Johannesburg.
The other South African-born Lions were Brian Black (1930), Matt Stevens (2005, 2013), Brad Barritt and Ian Evans (2013) and Allan Dell (2017).
There have also been a handful originally from Australia and New Zealand
Van der Merwe could once have expected a hostile reception in Lions' colours but that is unlikely now given how regularly the Springboks face South African-born players in other test nation teams – a growing phenomenon as players leave to play for better paying clubs overseas.
Van der Merwe’s family in the Eastern Cape have been right behind his new international career.
After his test debut, the Scottish rugby union organised a Zoom call with his family, who had been watching on TV.
“They were all there. They had their faces painted with the Scottish flag, they had the flag hanging up in the living room, my dad was wearing the Scotland jersey. I was so, so proud,” said Van der Merwe.
(Writing by Mark Gleeson in Cape Town; Editing by Ken Ferris)