Allister Coetzee’s statement that a fit-again Duane Vermeulen is surplus to the Springboks’ requirements could be his most absurd utterance yet, writes JON CARDINELLI in Durban.
Vermeulen made his return from injury when he led Toulon to a 28-6 victory over Montpellier on Sunday. The Bok No 8 will not, however, be considered for the Test against the All Blacks in Durban this Saturday.
On Monday, Coetzee confirmed that Vermeulen would not be brought back into the Bok squad at this stage. The Bok coach acknowledged that Vermeulen had made a long-awaited return from injury in France on Sunday.
He then said that the Boks were well covered at present with Warren Whiteley performing well as the starting No 8 and with a versatile loose forward like Willem Alberts back in the mix. ‘Other than that, there is no particular reason why Duane hasn’t been brought back,’ added Coetzee.
It’s worth reflecting on what Coetzee said in the buildup to the Test against Argentina in Nelspruit. Vermeulen was injured while playing for Toulon, and was later ruled out of the first four matches of the Rugby Championship. When Coetzee fronted reporters at the team hotel in Nelspruit, he said that the Boks hoped to have Vermeulen fit and firing for the home matches against Australia and New Zealand.
And yet, here we are. Vermeulen has been passed fit. In fact, he’s already got one match in the Top 14 under his belt. Why then is he being overlooked for the biggest home game on the South African rugby calendar?
Vermeulen has added terrific value to the Boks since making his Test debut in 2012. Since 2013, he has added value as the on-field defence captain. Between 2013 and 2015, the Boks boasted one of the best defensive records in world rugby (defence coach John McFarland moved on after the World Cup).
2016 has been a different story. The newlook side battled to gel in the three-Test series against Ireland. They then suffered a double blow on the defence front when Vermeulen was injured and defence coach Jacques Nienaber moved to Munster in Ireland.
Chean Roux was tasked with coaching the Bok defence. On the field, Whiteley was asked to take on more responsibility as the organiser of the defence. In the first five matches, the Boks conceded 123 points and 13 tries. To put things in perspective, the last six-game Rugby Championship in 2014 witnessed only 110 points and 10 tries conceded by the Boks.
That’s right, the Boks have already conceded more points and tries in the first five matches of the current tournament than they did over six Tests in the 2014 Rugby Championship.
The Boks need all the experience they can get at present. They will be playing for pride when they host the All Blacks at Kings Park this Saturday. They will need their defence to be on point if they’re going to prevent a repeat of what happened in Christchurch on 17 September. On that occasion, the Boks conceded six tries and 41 points to the All Blacks.
Coetzee hasn’t made much sense over the past two weeks. Last Monday, he expressed his confidence in the Bok midfield stocks by stating that the decorated Frans Steyn as well as the powerful Rohan Janse van Renburg were surplus to requirements.
He may want to retract that statement after another mediocre showing by incumbent No 12 Juan de Jongh against the Wallabies. Janse Van Rensburg has since been invited to play for the Barbarians against the Boks on 5 November.
The statement about Vermeulen is equally unconvincing. The Boks need a strong ball-carrier and defender for a clash with the All Blacks. They need someone with the experience and ability to marshall the defence and ensure the All Blacks are made to work for their linebreaks and tries.
Coetzee is right when he says that Whiteley is a talented player and that Alberts can add value in an extended squad. But why not make use of those players and Vermeulen in the same matchday 23?
The Bok coach has missed another trick. There was an opportunity to call on Vermeulen’s experience, physicality and defensive expertise ahead of a contest against the best team on the planet. Unfortunately for the Boks, that opportunity has been missed.
Photo: Boris Horvat/AFP