In the latest issue of SA Rugby magazine, Springbok No 8 Duane Vermeulen reflects on an emotional moment after the World Cup final and reiterates his desire to face the British & Irish Lions in 2021.
Jacques Nienaber remembers the first time he set eyes on Duane Vermeulen at a training session in 2006. Rassie Erasmus was the Cheetahs head coach, while Nienaber was in charge of strength and conditioning at the union.
‘We were watching the players run through a drill,’ Nienaber tells SA Rugby magazine. ‘Rassie told me to keep an eye on this guy. He believed Duane was going to be a world-class player.
‘I looked at Duane, and to be honest I didn’t know what to think. At the age of 19, Duane was tall and skinny and had a shock of long blond hair. He didn’t strike me as anything special at that stage and I was wondering why Rassie had gone through the trouble of recruiting him from the Pumas.’
Last year, Vermeulen led the Boks to the Rugby Championship title in the injury-enforced absence of regular skipper Siya Kolisi. He went on to play a key role for the side in the World Cup campaign and was named Man of the Match for his robust efforts on attack and defence in the decider against England.
When SA Rugby magazine touches base with Vermeulen, he explains what it felt like to realise a life-long dream, and why he was moved to tears when forwards coach Matt Proudfoot whispered in his ear immediately after the game.
Proudfoot told Vermeulen that his father – who passed away when Vermeulen was eight years old – would have been proud of him. The past five years have been particularly challenging for Vermeulen and his own sons, with him spending a lot of time away from the family due to club commitments in France and Japan.
‘Matt told me that all the sacrifices I’ve made have been worth it,’ Vermeulen says. ‘In that moment, I felt a weight falling off my shoulders and I just let go. Maybe it’s hard for people to see a grown man cry, but I was in an emotional space and there was no point holding back.’
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Nienaber recently told SA Rugby magazine that he wants the World Cup-winning players – whether they are competing in the Super Rugby tournament or in the overseas competitions in Europe and Japan – to crack on in 2020. Reputation alone, says the new Bok coach, won’t guarantee selection.
Vermeulen knows what it means to fight for recognition. Even now, at the age of 33 and with more than 50 Test caps to his name, he is hoping his performances in Japan will earn him a recall for the next set of games against Scotland and Georgia in July.
‘The 2021 British & Irish Lions series is something I would love to experience. Any player would kill to play at a World Cup. I’ve played in two. A Lions tour is also very special, though, and I would view an opportunity to face that team in a Test series as a significant moment in my life and career.
‘I played two matches against the Lions back in 2009 [for the Emerging Boks and then for Western Province]. It would be special to face the Lions in two series 12 years apart. Facing them in a Bok jersey would be a dream come true.’
*The full feature is available in our April edition of SA Rugby magazine, which is now on sale. During this period of lockdown, we hope you are able to get your hands on the latest copy, but we will continue to bring you the best possible content. You can also subscribe here
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