Van der Merwe hits big time in NZ

2000-10-19 13:21

Wellington - NPC rugby final on Saturday against Canterbury could show whether Wellington's South African prop Morne van der Merwe is the answer to a major weakness in the Capital side.

The Port Elizabeth prop had a big game against Auckland at Eden Park in last Friday's NPC semifinal, and has not written off the possibility of coming back next year - if Wellington want him.

And his ability to front up again against either All Black Greg Feek or potential All Blacks loosehead David Hewett could decide whether the invitation is forthcoming.

Van der Merwe is contracted to the Stormers for next season's Super 12. After that he's a free agent.

Wellington coach David Rennie publicly said it's too early to decide one way or the other, but it seems certain Van der Merwe is now on top of the shopping list after earlier doubts about his ability as a tighthead prop.

The 124kg South African has become more effective as he's got fitter - after arriving in New Zealand soon after a knee operation.

Van der Merwe played last Friday's semifinal under some personal grief and pressure, and only after the victory did he make the decision to stay on this week in New Zealand.

His grandmother Phyllis Kruger died 24 hours before the match and Van der Merwe was ready to fly home for the funeral afterwards. The win made him change his mind.

"She basically brought me up. My mother used to work a full day, so my grandmother used to look after me during my childhood and adolescence," he said.

Van der Merwe said this week he stayed because he knew he would have had his grandmother's blessing.

"It wasn't a hard decision to make. It's always something special to make a final, and at the end of the day she was always so supportive of my rugby career and that's what she would have wanted," he said.

Van der Merwe had 15 minutes on WestpacTrust Stadium in two spurts in the round-robin match with Canterbury won 27-20 by the Lions.

"I'm looking forward to having a much longer gallop this week," he said.

Meanwhile, Wellington's training on Wednesday night was not far short of last week's excellent efforts.

At the end of a busy day of media interviews after his decision to move his rugby to Japan, Alama Ieremia passed a fitness test on his hamstring without problems.

Providing he has no after-effects, he will start the match. Otherwise the team is unchanged.

Wellington: Christian Cullen, Jonah Lomu, Alama Ieremia, Tana Umaga, Jason O'Halloran, David Holwell, Jason Spice, Jerry Collins, Kupu Vanisi, Dion Waller, Inoke Afeaki, Rodney So'oialo, Morne van der Merwe, Norm Hewitt (captain), Kevin Yates. Reserves: Brad Fleming, Paul Steinmetz, Riki Flutey, Semo Sititi, Milton Ngauamo, Shane Carter, Mike Edwards. - Sapa-AFP