Rory Darge: Duhan van der Merwe will not be distracted by Scotland record

By Sports Desk March 08, 2024

Rory Darge feels Italy’s Stadio Olimpico would be “a nice place” for Duhan van der Merwe to become Scotland’s record try-scorer – but the co-captain stressed that his team’s focus is solely on leaving Rome with another Guinness Six Nations victory.

The Scots have won two of their three championship matches so far to sit second in the table – albeit six points adrift of Grand Slam-chasing Ireland – going into the penultimate round of fixtures.

While the priority for Gregor Townsend’s side is to get the points that will keep them on course for a first top-two finish in the Six Nations era, the fixture has added spice because Van der Merwe goes into it with 26 international tries to his name – one shy of the county’s record-holder Stuart Hogg.

A score or two by the South Africa-born wing on Saturday would see him join or overtake the former full-back, who will be at the Stadio Olimpico to support his old colleagues after completing a charity cycle to the Eternal City in aid of the My Name’5 Doddie foundation.

Back-rower Darge said: “I know one of Duhi’s tries in particular (his second one against England) was off our defensive efforts and then the turnover attack, so if we do get ourselves right, then we can put guys like that in.

“He’s obviously a great finisher. Sometimes you only need to give him half a chance and he comes away with a chance, so it (the record) could happen.

“It would be a nice place for him to do it but I don’t think he’ll have too much of his mind set on that.

“He’ll just be focused on his role, and he might come away with a couple, but we’ll have to wait and see. I’m sure Italy will put us under a lot of pressure.”

Darge insisted Edinburgh wing Van der Merwe has remained as humble as ever in the wake of the Calcutta Cup hat-trick a fortnight ago that put him on the cusp of Hogg’s record.

“Duhi’s always the same,” said the Glasgow forward. “Around training and around camp, he’s always quite laidback but when he gets out there he’s a Test-match animal, and it’s class to be able to play with him.”

Darge’s only previous experience of playing at Stadio Olimpico was a 33-22 victory two years ago in front of a crowd of 41,214.

This time, the famous arena in north-west Rome – used predominantly for football – is set to be full to capacity, with 70,000 tickets having been sold on the back of encouraging championship performances from the Azzurri against England and France.

“Italy are a really good side,” said Darge. “We saw that against France, and they’re obviously playing at home where they’ll have a really good atmosphere and good backing.

“The Stadio Olimpico is different (to other Six Nations venues) but the Scotland fans always travel well for this one, so that will be massive for us.

“It’s a long walk from the changing room but it’s a cool stadium. Inside the changing room, on the walk in, with all the jerseys on the wall and stuff like that, there’s a lot of history behind it, so it’s a cool place to be playing rugby.”

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