Star No 8 Duane Vermeulen says the decision to play in Japan while the Springboks compete in the Rugby Championship was made in December last year. JON CARDINELLI reports.
Vermeulen and SA Rugby recently agreed to a deal that will guarantee the No 8’s availability for the end-of-year tour to Europe and the all-important 2019 season, which will climax with the World Cup in Japan.
The star of the Boks’ morale-boosting series victory against England in June will not, however, be available for the coming Rugby Championship due to club commitments abroad.
Vermeulen told SARugbymag.co.za that he desires to represent a South African Super Rugby team after his contract with the Kubota Spears expires in January 2019. A decision on whether he will move to the Bulls or the Stormers is expected in the next few weeks.
While some have speculated about Vermeulen’s future after the stint in Japan, many others have demanded to know about the timing of the move. Former Bok coach Jake White is among those who feel that Vermeulen should be playing in the Rugby Championship rather than in Japan’s Top League.
Vermeulen told SA Rugby magazine that the decision to play in Japan was made long before he knew whether he was going to be part of the Bok set-up in 2018. In fact, the decision to play in Japan and the conditions of his Kubota contract were concluded in consultation with SA Rugby. The full interview with Vermeulen is available in the latest edition.
‘I was in negotiations with Toulon last December regarding my future beyond the 2017-18 northern hemisphere season,’ he explained. ‘I needed to make a call about where I was going to go in the lead-up to the World Cup, and obviously I wanted to be available for the Boks as much as possible.
‘I needed to manage my minutes of club rugby, too, in order to ensure that I am in the best possible form come the 2019 World Cup. Top 14 rugby in France is an ultra marathon in rugby terms.
‘Kubota offered a great career plan to me. I would have liked to have come back and played in South Africa but at the time of those negotiations, however, most of those South African teams were already set with players for the 2018 season.
‘We could not manage to agree terms with a South African franchise and SA Rugby at the time and eventually reached consensus that I will play in Japan between July 2018 up to the end of the Top League tournament.’
Vermeulen’s wife and two young sons will remain in Cape Town while he plays in Japan for the next four months.
A stint in the Top League tournament, however, could benefit a player who is looking to peak at the 2019 World Cup in Japan.
‘I needed a change after three years with Toulon,’ he said. ‘That was a great experience, but I played a hell of a lot.
‘That was really difficult. The opposite is true in Japan, where they don’t play much more than six months of rugby. My stay at Kubota will give me an opportunity to better preserve my body but still give my best for my club, which is non-negotiable to me.
‘Experiencing the Japanese culture, the playing style, and the stadiums before the World Cup won’t hurt,’ he added. ‘It’s actually something crucial. Anybody who is playing in Japan before that tournament will have a bit of an advantage over others who have never experienced the conditions.’
Vermeulen said that he would be watching the Rugby Championship with interest, and that he hopes to be back in the mix when the Boks tackle England, France, Scotland and Wales in November.
‘My journey with the Boks is hopefully far from over. It sounds like a cliche, because every time I have come back to the Boks over the past year or so I have spoken about how I want to be part of a special side. The thing is, I really do believe this.
‘There’s a new head coach [Rassie Erasmus] and coaching staff, and there are a lot of new players in the mix. I feel energised and optimistic about the future of Bok rugby.’
Photo: Gordon Arons/Gallo Images