Duane Vermeulen must be appointed as the next captain of the Springboks in order to bring a united voice to a clearly conflicted team environment, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
Vermeulen is on the cover of the latest SA Rugby magazine. It’s for good reason considering that he simply has to be the face of the Springboks going forward. He simply has to be entrusted with the captaincy in order to provide renewed leadership in a time of crisis for the Boks.
On Sunday, it was revealed that Allister Coetzee would be willing to resign if there was no clear-cut improvement by the end of next season. He insisted that his late appointment to the top job (on 11 April) had compromised his planning for this year, but that with better time to prepare, he could turn the Bok fortunes around next year.
There’s no point in arguing the merits of such an argument. Limited preparation time or not, there can be no saving grace in a season where the Boks recorded the worst win percentage (33%) of the professional era, while Coetzee endured the worst return of any coach in his first year.
Unfortunately, Coetzee also made a mistake from the outset when he opted to appoint Adriaan Strauss as his skipper, while failing to expand the team’s leadership group even when it was confirmed that the experienced hooker would be retiring after the 2016 season.
Strauss is an affable leader. To his credit, he manfully continued to carry a heavy workload throughout the year and refused to shy away from his leadership duties in the face of ever-increasing pressure. But in a time of crisis, he fought a losing battle in uniting a team that looked increasingly lost as a disastrous season came to an end on their recently completed end-of-year tour.
The Boks now need to turn to a man of action, a leader who will say it how it is and drive those around him to be better. Vermeulen has already spoken at length about the problems that he feels have contributed to the Springboks’ woes. He has called for the South African rugby leadership to make considerable changes to the way the game is run in the country. It’s time that they listened.
After all, Vermeulen has gone on record to say that he wants to be part of the solution. And at a time when the Boks desperately need a strong leader who others players will follow, he has to be the man who is backed to take over the leadership reins from Strauss.
At a time like this, a seriously problematic byproduct of the Springboks’ woes is that there is simply no player who can be assured of a starting berth next year. This certainly applies to the other likely captaincy candidates such as Pat Lambie and Warren Whiteley, who battled to make a consistent impression in a team that rocked from one shock defeat to another.
After a season such as this, the Boks have to turn to a leader who will command respect and remain undaunted by the challenge of reviving the Springbok brand. If SA Rugby is serious about making changes and overhauling their system, then the first step should be to engage with Vermeulen.
It has to be time for open and honest discussion. Vermeulen must be allowed to state his case and to be entrusted with the leadership of a playing group that has been left shattered by the results of an infamous year.
At 30 years old, Vermeulen still warrants a starting berth, and should still be able to lead the Boks at the next World Cup if he is managed carefully. Now he just needs the backing to do so.
Photo: Ben Stansall/AFP Photo