Duane Vermeulen needs to be entrusted as the man to lead the Boks into a new era, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
As the dust settles after the disappointment of another failed World Cup campaign, the reality will set in that the Boks are about to bid farewell to a core leadership group.
Jean de Villiers has retired, while Fourie du Preez, Victor Matfield and Schalk Burger are unlikely to feature for the Boks again after this campaign. All four men have worn the captaincy armband at some point this season.
The latter three are all deserving of a fitting send-off in Friday’s third-place match, but beyond that, the Boks have an opportunity to inject some fresh blood into their leadership group.
Vermeulen has to be the man at the forefront. The 29-year-old has a good few seasons left in him, and despite the fact he will soon be plying his trade for French club Toulon, he remains best placed to take over the leadership reins.
Vermeulen led the Stormers with aplomb during this year’s Vodacom Super Rugby season, and boasts the sort of presence, character and on-field fearlessness to inspire those around him. He deals well with the media and is often refreshingly honest.
It wouldn’t surprise me if Pat Lambie was instated as the Sharks’ skipper for next year’s Super Rugby season, while Nizaam Carr has had a taste of the captaincy at Western Province this year. These are the type of players who could be the heirs apparent to the Bok captaincy role in a couple of years’ time, but certainly not now.
Francois Louw is another who would serve as a capable deputy, and along with Vermeulen, appear to be the sort of leaders who have the experience and game sense to guide the Boks in a new direction.
It’s clear that the Bok squad is desperately in need of some fresh blood, and as is the case with every four-year cycle, there will be a changing of the guard.
The likes of Jaco Kriel, Franco Mostert, Seabelo Senatla, Jamba Ulengo, Kwagga Smith and Warrick Gelant are all exciting players who down the line could add something different to a Bok side that may well have a very youthful feel from next year.
Besides new personnel and a new captain, the Boks also desperately need an injection of fresh thinking in the coaching group.
Despite showing signs of attacking evolution during a successful 2013 season, while also briefly flirting with a more dynamic brand of rugby at the start of this year’s Rugby Championship, the Boks reverted to type when the pressure was on.
Ultimately, though, the Boks' tactical kicking remains miles behind that of the All Blacks, their attack is undeniably one-dimensional while their defence relies largely on brawn rather than brains.
The Boks’ southern hemisphere rivals have all shown signs of significant growth and improvement in recent times, with the All Blacks, Wallabies and Pumas proving that superior progression during the Rugby Championship and World Cup. Similarly, Wales and Ireland have in fact shown greater advancements over the last four-year cycle.
If Heyneke Meyer remains, which he appears set to do despite the fact that this cannot be justified on the basis of results or game progression, then some other means must be found to bolster the Boks’ management group.
Just as Eddie Jones added incredible value to the Boks’ 2007 World Cup campaign, I can only imagine how they could benefit from bringing in someone like Graham Henry, Robbie Deans or Ian McGeechan as an assistant or consultant.
The Boks have to be brave enough to broaden their horizons, and with a dynamic leader such as Vermeulen at the helm, and perhaps a new voice among the coaching group, the next four-year cycle could be one of growth rather than stagnation.
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