Bismarck du Plessis and Duane Vermeulen are primed to make a massive impact at the World Cup, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
When Heyneke Meyer pencils in the names of his first-choice team for the big games at the World Cup, Du Plessis and Vermeulen are two of the selections that will need no second guessing.
These are the sort of men any team would want in their side when they head into battle. They have a presence, poise and a peerless ability to influence the outcome of an encounter.
At the World Cup squad announcement on Friday night, it was the comments from these two men that caused observers to sit up and take notice.
Du Plessis is a fiery and influential on-field character at the best of times, but there was a sense, as he spoke to members of the media, that this World Cup represented quite possibly the pinnacle of his career to date.
At the 2007 World Cup, Du Plessis was a fresh-faced up-and-comer featuring in his first year of international rugby, while in 2011 he controversially served as the back-up hooker to John Smit.
This time, no questions asked, he’s heading to the World Cup as the Boks’ first-choice hooker. He does so as someone who’s matured as both a player and a person.
A horrific knee injury suffered in 2012, which forced him from the field for nine months, simply served to reinforce Du Plessis’s love for the game. The form and competition from Adriaan Strauss has also motivated him to lift his performance level and reclaim the Bok No 2 jersey this season.
Also earlier this year, after a disciplinary indiscretion in Super Rugby he returned to rugby both humbled and hungry to ensure his actions were remembered for all the right reasons, while the off-field negotiations around his eventual departure from the Sharks tested his character and resolve.
It’s no wonder then that Du Plessis spoke with real emotion on Friday night.
‘I’m immensely proud to be here. To have come from humble beginnings to now be heading into my third World Cup, I’m just so blessed and grateful. For me, when people write us off, I don’t read anything into it, I know what I’m capable of, and I’m looking forward to showcasing that,’ he said with conviction.
Vermeulen was another who spoke straight from the heart after the World Cup squad announcement, having earned inclusion after recovering from a neck injury that had seriously threatened his availability.
He admitted that he had lain awake at the very same team hotel in Umhlanga six weeks ago wondering whether he would ever play again, let alone at the World Cup.
However, after being put on an intensive recovery programme, Vermeulen suggested he is now the fittest he’s ever been. The big No 8 still needs to be put through contact again, and won’t be rushed back into action, but when he does return, watch out.
‘You can put me in an 800m race, or whatever, and I’ll run it, I’m just so hungry to get back into action. I want to take contact, tackle guys, carry the ball. I’m so keen to get back into action,’ Vermeulen enthused, stopping just short of licking his lips at the prospect.
Vermeulen is like a thoroughbred stallion being held at bay, but when he is released into action, expect him to hit the ground running.
It’s great news for the Boks. If they can have Vermeulen and Du Plessis performing at the peak of their powers, their chances of reclaiming the Webb Ellis Cup will be immeasurably improved.
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