Duane Vermeulen believes that the Springboks can build on the win against France and make a success out of this four-game tour. JON CARDINELLI in Paris reports.
The Boks beat France 18-17 in Paris on Saturday. While the performance left a lot to be desired, the result marked South Africa’s first win in five Tests.
After the game, Bok coach Allister Coetzee commended his charges for ‘closing out the match’ in the dying stages. He made special mention of Vermeulen’s contribution as a leader and player in what was the No 8’s first Test since June 2016.
Vermeulen was tasked with leading the side in the latter stages after regular skipper Eben Etzebeth left the field with an injury. Coetzee said afterwards that Etzebeth will go for a scan to his lower leg on Sunday.
Vice-captain Siya Kolisi will be unavailable for next week’s game due to family commitments. If Etzebeth is ruled out of the clash against Italy, Vermeulen may end up leading the side into battle.
In 2014, then Bok coach Heyneke Meyer marked Vermeulen as a future Bok captain. The experienced No 8 was the Stormers skipper during Coetzee’s last season with the Cape franchise. For the past two seasons, he has led French side Toulon.
Vermeulen got a surprise when he received the captain’s armband after Etzebeth left the field at the Stade de France, though.
‘It was sad to see Eben go off,’ Vermeulen said. ‘He had an outstanding game and led the team really well.
‘I don’t know why the coach chose me to lead the side at that point,’ he added with a laugh. ‘There are other guys in the team who are capable of doing the job.
‘I really enjoyed it. It’s a great honour to have that responsibility and you will never turn it down. That said, let’s hope that Eben makes a full recovery and is fit to lead the side against Italy.’
Coetzee omitted Vermeulen from his initial touring squad due to a perceived lack of fitness. However, following the record 38-3 loss to Ireland in Dublin and the setback of Pieter-Steph du Toit’s injury, Coetzee was forced to correct his mistake. Vermeulen was recalled and joined the team in Paris last Monday.
The No 8 feels that the side has made a mental and physical shift over the past seven days.
‘It’s a good comeback by the side considering what happened in Dublin. That result against Ireland was a bit shocking and disappointing.
‘I wasn’t yet with the team when they got together for a meeting the day after the Test against Ireland. But I know that some hard words were spoken. Things started to happen. I joined the squad on the Monday and already it seemed like changes were afoot. It was easy to slot in.
‘It’s great to be back,’ Vermeulen continued. ‘The pace of the game against France took some getting used to. There was a bit of pressure on me coming into this game, but in the end it turned out fine. I didn’t realise how much I’ve missed being part of this set-up. ‘
The result was all-important in Paris. Going forward, however, the Boks will need to improve across the board.
‘It wasn’t pretty and I doubt people will remember it as one of the great wins,’ Vermeulen said. ‘The important thing is that we worked hard for each other right up until the final whistle. It could have gone either way.
‘We’re happy with the result and it will certainly lift the morale. There were positives to come out of this game, but we still have a lot of work to do. Hopefully we can build on this.’
Photo: Martin Bureau/AFP Photo