Van der Merwe, 31, who played his 99th Super Rugby game against the Reds last weekend, was injured as early as the seventh minute when he was seen holding his head in anquish as he pointed out to the medical staff the nature of his ankle injury.
With the Lions playing their last game on July 12 against the Cheetahs, Van der Merwe has been ruled out of the rest of the campaign and will also miss the start of the Currie Cup competition as he will only return at the end of September.
Van der Merwe underwent surgery yesterday and will be out for six months as a result, which is a telling blow for the Lions who relied heavily on the big lock’s experience in a pack where the other tight four – apart from hooker Willie Wepener – only made their Super Rugby debuts this year.
The Lions have a bye this week, but face the Crusaders at home next weekend, followed by the Sharks, also at home, and the Stormers away before they embark on their tough away leg.
“The Golden Lions Rugby Union (GLRU) management will do their utmost to ensure that Van der Merwe receives only the best possible medical treatment throughout his rehabilitation process,” the GLRU said yesterday.
Obvious replacements for Van der Merwe include MB Lusaseni, who came on for him last weekend, and Vodacom Cup locks Chris van Zyl and Martin Muller.
“It’s a big setback to lose your most experienced player and also your only Springbok, but MB and Franco Mostert, did well under the circumstances,” said Lions coach Johan Ackermann.
The other injury concerns relating to backs Coenie van Wyk and Deon van Rensburg – both knee injuries – were eased as both are expected to recover ahead of the Crusaders game.