Duane Vermeulen believes that the pressure of playing in a World Cup semi-final will bring the best out of the Springboks. JON CARDINELLI in Tokyo reports.
Four years ago, the World Cup quarter-final between South Africa and Wales was decided by one daring play in the dying moments.
Vermeulen broke from the back of the scrum, muscled his way through a couple of defenders and then threw an outrageous offload to Fourie du Preez. The scrumhalf went on to score in the left-hand corner and clinch victory for the Boks.
Thanks to Vermeulen’s vision and execution under pressure, and Du Preez’s clinical finish, South Africa advanced to the semi-finals.
Vermeulen laughed when he was reminded about that moment on Tuesday. The Boks have already begun their preparations for the World Cup semi-final clash with Wales. There’s been a lot of talk among the players about improving their execution in pressure situations.
‘That was a spur-of-the-moment thing,’ the Bok No 8 said. ‘We will see if I can try something new this Sunday. It definitely won’t be a kick, though.’
Vermeulen, who has played a key role as a player and leader during the Rassie Erasmus era, confirmed that the team is in a good mental space ahead of the semi-final. He said that the group is viewing the pressure associated with the occasion as a positive.
‘If you have been in pressure situations before, you kind of know how to handle that, how to soak it all in, how to turn that pressure into something positive,’ he said. ‘We’ve got guys who can do that and Wales have guys who can handle that pressure and maybe turn it into something positive.
‘This weekend will be different in that we’re both away from home. It’s not like last week where it felt like the world was against us because everyone wanted Japan to win. This is a 50/50 game and whoever gets the bounce of the ball or executes their plan better will get the win.’
The Boks produced an impressive defensive and set-piece performance in their win over Japan last week. Their handling let them down at times, though, and cost them several scoring chances.
Vermeulen admitted that the team would have to sharpen its attack ahead of a game against a side renowned for its defence.
‘Going into a semi-final, you might only get three or four opportunities and you need to convert those into points because you don’t know when you will be back in that points zone.
‘We made individual errors against Japan. We’re not robots,’ he added. ‘The guys will try something and sometimes the ball will go to ground. That’s fine as long as it’s not a system error.’
Vermeulen also highlighted the importance of discipline. The Boks did well to contain Japan while Beast Mtawarira was in the sin bin last Sunday, but may struggle to keep a side like Wales at bay if they are reduced to 14 men.
‘When you get a card you put [the team] under pressure. You’re making it difficult for yourself and you’re probably going to get punished.
‘That can have a massive effect on the end result. Hopefully we can keep 15 men on the park for the whole game this Sunday.’
Photo: Steve Haag Sports via Hollywoodbets