Duane Vermeulen’s return to Test rugby this coming weekend will be colossal for the Springboks Rugby Championship campaign, because he was built for the international arena, writes Oliver Keohane.
The Springboks, in the absence of Duane Vermeulen won a British & Irish Lions series, in which Pieter-Steph Du Toit and Faf De Klerk were ruled out of the final Test too. They then brushed past a Pumas side with two completely different teams to start their Rugby Championship unbeaten.
No Duane, no Du Toit, no De Klerk. From a Springbok perspective, that is huge. It speaks volumes of the systems the management has put in place, it is testament to the qualities of the players who stepped in and performed with excellence. The future looks bright for the Springboks when you assess the talent of the youth and the general squad depth.
But Duane Vermeulen will be welcomed back with open arms and a sigh of relief by the Springbok side and the South African public.
Experience is something that no amount of talent can replace, and Vermeulen is not only experienced, he’s an experienced winner. He knows how to win, he knows how to lead and he gives the Springbok set-up an enormous boost of confidence heading into matches of the calibre that await them in the rest of their Rugby Championship campaign.
Siya Kolisi, who has been phenomenal so far this season, has been very vocal about Vermeulen’s leadership qualities since he (Kolisi) was made Springbok captain in 2018. He offers a support structure and guidance to Kolisi on the field, but he is also a such a presence in that Springbok pack. Even more so now in the wake of Pieter – Steph Du Toit’s injury.
From a playing perspective ,Vermeulen is a bit of an enigma. He is, contrary to initial impressions, a lot more than just an enforcer. Vermeulen’s breakdown work is unusual of a Number 8, and such a bonus when you consider that it allows the Boks to play without a specialist fetcher, as both him and Malcolm Marx offer equal threat over the ball. He is a pillar at kick off and under the high ball, a responsibility which Jasper Wiese revelled in in Vermeulen’s absence, and he has fantastic ball skills that allow him to fit the archetypal eighthman role of linking the backs and forwards.
The epitome of Vermeulen’s unique combination of raw power and precise rugby brain will always be his try assist to Fourie Du Preez for the match winner in the Springboks quarter-final deadlock against Wales in 2015.
WATCH: Vermeulen’s try-assist
Vermeulen was made for the Test arena, and I always felt that if fit, he must start, and not be nurtured back from the bench. It’s fantastic to see him in that starting role because the other dynamic that he has now added, beyond his own playing capabilities, is a Springbok bench that allows for Jasper Wiese, Marco Van Staden and Kwagga Smith. What other team in world rugby has the luxury of a full set of loose forward replacements?
Vermeulen will only have a positive impact on the players around him, and a player of his stature can only play well when pulling the Bok jersey over his head. Take great comfort this weekend, South African fans, as Thor returns at the back of an already imposing Springbok pack.
Watch: A reminder of Vermeulen’s presence