World Cup-winner Duane Vermeulen believes that the new coaching structure will improve the Springboks’ chances of sustained success. JON CARDINELLI reports.
Rassie Erasmus and Jacques Nienaber have enjoyed a close working relationship for the better part of two decades. Nienaber served as a physiotherapist and fitness specialist when Erasmus took charge at Free State in the mid-2000s.
Nienaber followed Erasmus when the latter took up head coach positions at the Stormers, Munster and the Boks. He subsequently developed into one of the best defence coaches in the game.
In 2019, South Africa went on to win the Rugby Championship and World Cup on the back of a series of dominant defensive performances. On Friday, SA Rugby – on Erasmus’ recommendation – elevated Nienaber to the position of head coach.
Another man has travelled a similar path over the past 14 years. Duane Vermeulen first worked with Erasmus and Nienaber after he joined Free State in 2007. He eventually followed Erasmus to the Stormers in 2009 and furthered his defensive education under Nienaber until he was snapped up by French side Toulon in late 2015.
Vermeulen was installed as a member of the leadership group when Erasmus and Nienaber joined the Bok coaching staff in 2018. The veteran No 8 – who has so often been tasked with marshalling and organising the team’s defence on the field itself – is well placed to comment on the recent changes to the South African coaching structure and the elevation of Nienaber in particular.
‘Jacques was such a crucial part of the Bok squad at the World Cup,’ Vermeulen told SARugbymag.co.za. ‘He knows a great deal about the game, and has learned quite a bit after walking alongside Rassie all these years.
‘Apart from Jacques’ rugby knowledge, he’s a special guy who will never back down from a challenge. We probably won’t see him running along the sidelines like he did before [now that he’s head coach]. That will take some getting used to. I believe that he will make a fantastic head coach, though.’
SA Rugby has confirmed that Deon Davids, Mzwandile Stick, Daan Human and Felix Jones will serve as Nienaber’s assistants. Davids – who shadowed the Boks at various stages last season – will replace forwards coach Matt Proudfoot.
Vermeulen, who is currently playing for Kubota Spears in Japan, is excited about the possibility of rejoining the Boks later this year. South Africa will host Scotland and Georgia in July before turning their attention to the Rugby Championship.
‘I’m glad to hear that Rassie will continue to work with the side in his capacity as director of rugby,’ he said. ‘A couple of new coaches will be involved and I’m sure that they will bring some new ideas to the table.
‘What’s most important, however, is that we build on what was put in place over the past two years.’
Now that the hype around the World Cup win has died down, Vermeulen (33) has set his sights on another big achievement, namely a series win against the British & Irish Lions. The composite side will tour South Africa in 2021.
‘Only three guys retired in the wake of that World Cup,’ Vermeulen pointed out. ‘The squad is still young-ish and I have no doubt that it will grow stronger in the coming years.
‘We’ve spoken about it a lot, that is keeping that No 1 ranking. There’s a helluva lot more to achieve.
‘I’m here in Japan until the end of May,’ he added. ‘After that, we’ll see what happens. I’d love to be involved with the Boks again and the Lions series is something I would love to experience.
‘I played in two matches against the Lions in 2009 [for Western Province and the Emerging Boks], but I missed out on the Tests. It’s definitely on my bucket list and it would be great to keep contributing to what is a special group of players.’
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