A rejuvenated Duane Vermeulen feels that he could lend some much-needed grunt and experience to the Springbok loose-forward contingent in Europe this November. JON CARDINELLI in Dublin reports.
Last week, Allister Coetzee sprang a surprise when he picked lock Ruan Botha as a replacement for the injured loose forward Jean-Luc du Preez in his 34-man touring squad. The move led many to the conclusion that Pieter-Steph du Toit – who started at No 7 against the All Blacks at Newlands – would travel to Europe as a specialist flank and not as a utility forward.
Coetzee could well retain the back-row combination that fronted the All Blacks for the coming clash against Ireland. Alternatively, he could bring Uzair Cassiem in – who was included in the squad after recovering from a rib injury – at No 8, or push the uncapped Dan du Preez – who is actually the only specialist No 8 on tour at present – into the starting lineup.
Can Coetzee select a more experienced and balanced back row across the coming Tests? No 8 Warren Whiteley, openside Jaco Kriel and blindside Jean-Luc du Preez have been ruled out for the remainder of the international season due to serious injuries.
What about Vermeulen? Is he battling any injuries at present? Any niggles?
Last week, Coetzee told a media conference in Johannesburg that Vermeulen – who sustained a serious injury on the eve of the 2017 Test season and subsequently underwent surgery – wasn’t yet fit enough to be considered for the games against Ireland, France and Italy this November.
Vermeulen is contracted to Toulon and is not available for the final tour clash against Wales in Cardiff, as the fixture falls outside of the World Rugby-sanctioned window.
On Sunday, Vermeulen told SARugbymag.co.za that he is indeed fit enough to contribute and that he still hopes to receive a recall in the next couple of weeks.
There’s been no communication between Vermeulen and the Bok management team as yet, though. While the Bok side train in earnest in Dublin on Monday, Vermeulen will travel back to South Africa to visit his wife and two young sons.
Nevertheless, he appears to be in a good physical and mental space.
‘Obviously it wasn’t a great result for us [Agen beat Toulon 26-24 this past Saturday], but I felt that I got myself into some good positions and the body was feeling pretty good afterwards,’ he told SARugbymag.co.za.
‘I had 30 minutes off the bench the week before. Prior to that, I hadn’t played in four months. So it’s fair to say that I’m hungry for game time and to get myself back into peak condition.’
Perhaps Coetzee feels that it would be a risk to select a player who hasn’t had a great deal of game time. Then again, the Boks find themselves in a position where they could use all the help they can get.
Vermeulen has been training hard since returning from injury and feels that he’s gained a lot from the last two games for Toulon.
‘Don’t get me wrong, I’m not at my absolute best after two games. But can I contribute to the Boks? I’m confident that I can add value in a side that is pretty thin in the back row at the moment,’ he said.
‘I want to get back into the mix as soon as possible. I’m ready and willing. If I don’t get the call [this November], then I will keep working to become the best version of myself.’
Vermeulen hasn’t given up on the possibility of wearing the Bok No 8 jersey again. The powerful ball-carrier and defender was nominated for the World Rugby Player of the Year award in 2014 following some outstanding performances in this position.
‘I will play tighthead prop if they need me to, but my goal is to push for that No 8 position and to compete against guys like Billy Vunipola and Kieran Read on the Test stage.
‘I’m going back to South Africa for a few days now, but I will be ready if I am called [by the Boks]. If there is another injury and they need someone, perhaps I can step in.
‘If not, I suppose, the next opportunity may be in that three-Test series against England in June 2018. I will accept the decision and work towards that.
‘Some guys talk about finishing their career with 100 or more caps,’ Vermeulen added. ‘At this stage I’m still looking to surpass 50. The next World Cup is in the back of my mind. I really want to be there in 2019.
‘Right now, though, I’m just waiting for an opportunity. I really want to play and be part of the Boks again.’
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