Duane Vermeulen strengthened his claim for the Springbok captaincy with an intelligent and inspirational display at Loftus Versfeld, writes JON CARDINELLI.
In the buildup to the Test against the Wallabies at Newlands last year, I caught up with Heyneke Meyer to chat about Vermeulen’s growth as an international player. The Bok coach told me that Vermeulen didn’t receive enough credit for his game intelligence.
Meyer pointed out that there were similarities between Vermeulen and Victor Matfield. Meyer said that both have a passion for the finer details of the game. Both have the ability to adapt in a game situation, and both are capable of using that information and vision to reorganise the collective to good effect.
Meyer said that both were natural leaders. For emphasis, he said Vermeulen would make a fine Bok captain in future.
That future may become the present sooner rather than later. Jean de Villiers is in doubt for the World Cup tournament due to a serious knee injury sustained in the final match of the 2014 season. Meyer has already intimated that Matfield will lead the Boks at the global tournament, although it may take a small miracle for the 37-year-old to avoid injuries over the next seven months.
The good news for South Africa is they have another special leader waiting in the wings. Vermeulen has proved through his performances for the Boks, and more recently the Stormers, that he has what it takes to be a success in this position.
Vermeulen has already assumed the role of defence captain in the Bok set-up. His knowledge of the game as well as his determination to lead by example has won the respect of his peers and coaches. Apart from defence, he has also taken on more responsibility in areas like the lineout. This is why Meyer was so reluctant to rest him on the 2014 tour of Europe.
This year, Vermeulen has been handed the responsibility of leading the Stormers. This has come after an outstanding 2014 Test and Vodacom Super Rugby season that culminated in his winning the South African Player of the Year award.
Not that this prize has led to any complacency. Indeed, this past Saturday, Vermeulen and his young Stormers side played like they had a point to prove.
We’ve come to expect that Vermeulen will make the big hits in these clashes, and that he'll make game-shaping contributions at the breakdown. What was encouraging to see at Loftus, from a Stormers and more importantly a Bok viewpoint, was that Vermeulen made a statement as a leader.
The management of his players was excellent. His decision to take the points when they were on offer made all the difference to the final outcome.
The Stormers were the best South African team on show this past weekend. They played the smartest brand of rugby. They did the basics well, made good decisions with ball in hand, and their tactics were spot on.
This looks a different side to the one that did duty in 2014. The changes to the coaching structures seem to have made a significant impact. The change in leadership has made a difference. As we saw at Loftus, Vermeulen ensured the Stormers stuck to a plan and earned the rewards.
Vermeulen will be managed over the course of the Super Rugby tournament as per Saru’s plan to ensure the contracted Boks don’t burn out before the World Cup in September. The Stormers have been a lesser side when Vermeulen has been absent in the past, and will be a lesser side in 2015 when he is forced to sit out.
The Boks, of course, must come first. It’s more important that Vermeulen peaks in the World Cup knockout fixtures in October than in the Super Rugby play-offs in July.
It’s crucial that Vermeulen goes to the global tournament free of injury, and that he provides Meyer with a strong leadership option. And if he is handed the captaincy in the big matches, he has everything he needs to be a success.
Photo: Anne Laing/HSM Images