Bok stalwart Duane Vermeulen may have recently missed out on ticking off a Lions series win from his rugby ‘bucket list’, but he has not ruled out the possibility of reaching for another lofty goal, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
Vermeulen will soon be back in Bok colours.
It’s been an especially long wait for the 35-year-old to return to international action after suffering a serious ankle injury on the eve of the British & Irish Lions series.
Having since returned to fitness, though, signs suggest he will be ready for a return to the Springbok match-day squad for the upcoming Rugby Championship clash with Australia on 12 September.
The wait will finally be over.
After all, it’s been nearly two years since Vermeulen produced a man- of-the-match performance in the 2019 World Cup final, with his ankle injury coming at the worst possible time.
“It was a tough one to miss out on the Lions series, it was the one other bucket-list item that I really wanted to tick off,” he commented during a virtual media briefing from Australia on Tuesday.
“My injury was a bit more severe than everyone thought, and although I hoped to get back on the field for the first Test, I just wasn’t ready in time. I had to go to Jacques [Nienaber] and let him know I would have dropped the team if he put me out on the field. It was a tough decision, but definitely the correct one at that stage just to ensure I recovered and could be ready and fit for the next games.
“But I was fortunate to be part of the squad and next to the field for the final game of the series. The transition after being waterboy for a couple of weeks really got me pumped up, and now I’m just so looking forward to getting back on the pitch and playing my part within the squad.”
Whichever way you look at it, Vermeulen’s presence was sorely missed during the Lions series despite the Boks clinching a famous 2-1 victory.
For the final two Tests, Jasper Wiese certainly did a more-than-capable job, but the leadership, experience and all-round game of Vermeulen is something that sets him apart as one of the most influential No 8s in world rugby.
And although Vermeulen will be 37 years old by the time the next World Cup rolls around, the fact that he has been deprived of Test-match rugby for the better part of two years does beg the tantalising question of whether he might push through to 2023.
He was asked on Monday whether that was a new bucket-list item he was now considering, particularly after missing out on the Lions series.
“I’m here, aren’t I?” Vermeulen answered with a warm-hearted laugh.
“You’ll keep on pushing as long as you can. Until I can’t keep up any more. That’s the big thing. I’ve spoken to Jacques before and said I’ll continue to give my best and play my part for as long as I can. But if he can see I’m falling off the pace, then we’d have to sit down and discuss what’s next and if my time has come and gone.
“But, for now, I’m still really pushing to be out there alongside my teammates, and to keep representing my country as best I can. So, I’m looking forward to the next couple of challenges that lie ahead, and if that pushes me through to the next World Cup then so be it, I’m looking forward to that.”