Duane Vermeulen says his country will always come first and he is determined to start the 2016 Test season with a bang. JON CARDINELLI reports.
In the lead-up to the announcement of the Springbok squad on 28 May, there were reports suggesting that Vermeulen would remain at his club in Toulon during the June Test window. It was even alleged that the No 8 had been given an ultimatum by SA Rugby, and that he may be forced to retire from international rugby.
On 28 May, however, coach Allister Coetzee confirmed that Vermeulen would be part of the squad as well as a member of the team’s senior core. Following Vermeulen's release from his club this past weekend, he linked up with the Boks ahead of their first Test against Ireland at Newlands.
On Tuesday, Vermeulen fronted the South African media for the first time since the 2015 World Cup. He stated that it had always been the plan to feature for the Boks in what is an important first series in the new four-year cycle.
‘There was never a question about coming back,’ Vermeulen said. ‘Staying in France [in June] was not even a consideration.
‘I said from the beginning that I want to play international rugby and if I can represent my country, it doesn't matter where I am based, I will do it as best I can.
‘Everything is set out in a contract and all I want to do is play for South Africa. It’s amazing to be here and I’m looking forward to the challenge with a new coach and a new team.’
Coetzee has made it clear that his long-term captain must be based in South Africa. He reiterated the point last week when he named Adriaan Strauss the skipper for the three Tests against Ireland. The Pretoria-based hooker may retain the job in future, as other strong candidates such as Vermeulen (Toulon) and Francois Louw (Bath) play their club rugby in Europe.
While he would have relished the opportunity to lead South Africa, Vermeulen said he would give Strauss his full support.
‘I have no problem with the captaincy because it was not a decision that I had anything to do with. The coach and SA Rugby decided who they thought was the right man for the job, and I accept that.
‘Adriaan is a great captain who has led the Bulls and the Cheetahs in Super Rugby. He understands how things work at international level and I support him 100%. If he feels he needs my support at any stage I will happily give it. There are no problems.’
Some have suggested that Lions skipper Warren Whiteley deserves to start ahead of Vermeulen, who was nominated for the 2014 World Rugby Player of the Year award. Vermeulen said he welcomed the competition within the squad.
‘I feel as excited to be here as every debutant. You must never lose that feeling of being fortunate to be part of something special.
‘Pressure is always a good thing, because if you don’t perform under pressure, you’re never going to produce the goods. To have other players pushing you makes you work harder and if they are selected ahead of you, then you support them. We are a squad of 31 and we support each other.’
Photo: Ashley Vlotman/Gallo Images