Duane Vermeulen is unlikely to play for the Springboks until the second or third pool match at the World Cup, JON CARDINELLI reports.
Vermeulen sustained a neck injury in the buildup to the Vodacom Super Rugby game between the Stormers and Lions in early June. He hasn’t played since, and has always been doubtful to feature in the initial stages of South Africa’s World Cup campaign.
At the World Cup squad announcement in Umhlanga on Friday, coach Heyneke Meyer highlighted the importance of Vermeulen in the context of the Bok game plan. The No 8 is a powerful ball-carrier as well as a useful jumper at the back of the lineout. Vermeulen organises and directs the defensive plays, and can be counted on to make the big hits as well as the crucial breakdown steals himself.
On Friday, Meyer said that the time away from the game had given Vermeulen an opportunity to improve his conditioning. Vermeulen is looking fit, but it may be some time yet before he is ready to unleash his unique brand of physicality on World Cup opponents.
SARugbymag.co.za understands that Vermeulen will miss the Boks’ opening pool match against Japan in Brighton on 19 September. He may be ready to play in the following game against Samoa in Birmingham a week later.
In any event, he won’t be rushed. Meyer knows that it’s in the big pool clash against Scotland, and in a likely quarter-final showdown against either Australia, England or Wales, where Vermeulen will be needed most.
The Boks certainly won’t be wanting for grunt or guile in those first two pool games, whether Vermeulen features or not. Willem Alberts will be the team's premier ball-carrier and momentum-stopping defender on the slow fields of England. Francois Louw, who plays his club rugby for Bath in these English conditions, will have a game-shaping role to play at the breakdown. Schalk Burger has enhanced his credentials as a Test No 8 over the past few months.
Siya Kolisi will go to the World Cup, while Heinrich Brüssow will remain on standby. It is Meyer’s most questionable squad selection given the need for two breakdown specialists in northern hemisphere conditions where the ruck contest is at its fiercest.
With Vermeulen unlikely to play in the first game, Kolisi may well be included in the match 23. His progress as an out-and-out fetcher over the past three seasons has been slow. He will need to show an improvement at the breakdown in order to justify his position in the group as Louw's understudy.
Jean de Villiers (knee and most recently a fractured jaw) hasn’t played a lot this season, and neither has Fourie du Preez (knee). Like Vermeulen, they still have a way to go before they are fully fit. They may well feature in that first game against Japan.
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