Springbok No 8 Duane Vermeulen has revealed how a fortunate encounter with a good samaritan enabled him to return home after initial fears of being stranded in Japan.
On Monday it was finally confirmed by the Japan Rugby Football Union that the remainder of the Top League season had been cancelled due to Covid-19, finally allowing players the opportunity to head home.
However, as Vermeulen revealed on social media, him and several others were met by more problems when they arrived at the airport and found that their flight was cancalled.
After two more cancelled flights during the week, Vermeulen told Rapport newspaper’s Brenden Nel that he had given up hope of returning to South Africa to be with his family during the 21-day lockdown.
But Vermeulen was then sent a message by a South African who he had met by chance, Alizane van der Merwe, who told him she would be flying out on Ethiopian Airlines the Wednesday night.
‘I remember her as the girl with the purple hair,’ Vermeulen told Rapport. ‘She told me the flight was leaving and also gave me the counter number.
‘Because I couldn’t book online, I begged them to accept cash. Fortunately, the airline agreed and I was able to pay cash for the ticket.’
Vermeulen then flew from Tokyo to Seoul in South Korea and then to Addis Ababa in Ethiopia, before eventually landing in Cape Town on late Thursday afternoon.
‘After 24 hours, I was finally back in the Cape, and I am now in self-isolation.’
According to Nel’s report in Rapport, Reniel Hugo, Clinton Swart and Carl Wegner were on the same flight as Vermeulen, while Jesse Kriel, SP Marais, Jan de Klerk, Kobus van Dyk and Rynier Bernardo flew home together. Kwagga Smith also landed back in South Africa.
However, Malcolm Marx, Damian de Allende, RG Snyman, Jean Droste, Lionel Cronje, Jason Jenkins and Matthys Basson are all still said to be stranded in Japan.