Jacques Vermeulen’s displays for would-be Premiership champions Exeter Chiefs should earn him a Springbok call-up later this year, writes DYLAN JACK.
Following Francois Louw’s retirement from the game, the Springboks will have at least one spot open among the loose forwards. Louw was a big-game and big-moment player for the Springboks, as evidenced by his often game-changing impact off the bench for Rassie Erasmus’ side during the World Cup.
While there are a plethora of local options, with Marco van Staden, Jaco Coetzee and James Venter all putting their hands up during Super Rugby earlier this year, another South African has been thriving since taking a brave decision in his career.
— SA Rugby magazine (@SARugbymag) August 31, 2020
Highly rated since his days as a schoolboy at Paarl Gimnasium, Vermeulen struggled to fulfil his potential at the Sharks after moving to Durban from Western Province.
With the Sharks preferring the Du Preez twins – Jean-Luc and Daniel – as well as the workmanlike Philip van der Walt in their loose trio, Vermeulen was in and out of their starting lineup and used more as a utility forward between the two flank positions and No 8.
However, having sealed a three-year-long contract with the Exeter Chiefs last year, he has reaped the benefits of moving to England’s southwest.
While he was expected to be a hit in director of rugby Rob Baxter’s system, Vermeulen has certainly exceeded those expectations with how quickly he has slotted in at the Chiefs.
‘I had an expectation he’d be good in the Premiership and then in the European competition,’ Baxter told BBC Sport in January this year. ‘Perhaps how quickly he’s settled in is a different question.
‘And the best thing is there’s still a fair bit more there. He’s still developing his learning of some of our systems and especially some of the calling around the lineout. He’s thriving on it and he’s going to get better and better.’
Far from the player who admitted he had to use Google to find where Exeter was, Vermeulen has been at home in the Premiership and has grown immensely over the past year. While he has scored vital tries in both the Premiership and the European Champions Cup, his value goes beyond that.
In his first season with the Chiefs, Vermeulen has set about reforming himself as an openside flank, starting the overwhelming majority of his 13 appearances in the No 7 jersey.
The 25-year-old has completed 144 of his attempted 159 tackles, for a 91% success rate, but he has also made himself a threat at the breakdown, winning 10 turnovers and only conceding three defensive penalties.
He is also effective when given license to roam, averaging just over two metres per carry, with a total of 111 carries so far this season. Vermeulen has also beaten 16 defenders, making five clean breaks and 44 successful passes.
Much like Louw, Vermeulen is someone who thrives under the pressure of a big game. One only needs to look at his role in Exeter’s come-from-behind win over the Sale Sharks on 21 August to see that.
If it so happens that the Springboks need to look to the northern hemisphere for players – with a South African domestic competition only set to get under way in October – Vermeulen should be among those considered for a first-ever call-up. He deserves nothing less.
Photo: David Rogers/Getty Images